FBI Director Chris Wray told members of Congress on Tuesday that the number of domestic terror cases in the United States has "exploded" over the past year and a half, confirming many suspicions surrounding the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
On Tuesday, Wray told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the FBI's domestic terrorism caseload has "more than doubled" since the spring of 2020, "from about 1,000 to around 2,700 investigations."
Wray added the intelligence agency has responded to the recent surge in domestic terror cases by "more than doubling" the number of intelligence officials working on domestic terror threats compared to the previous year.
On January 6, thousands of right-wing insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Five people died following the attack, and hundreds of rioters and police officers were injured. Biden took office two weeks after the attack and directed intelligence officials to focus on investigating and combating domestic terror threats. There are currently 615 federal cases against individuals connected with the January 6 attack, according to George Washington University's Program on Extremism.
The January 6 attack may be the most recent high-profile domestic terror case, but domestic terrorism cases have been growing for years. In response to a question from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Wray said the FBI's domestic terror caseload "has been going up quite significantly over the past few years." According to an April report from the Washington Post, the number of annual domestic terror incidents shot up significantly starting in 2015 and peaked in 2020.
Armed protests are also on the rise. More than 560 armed demonstrations have taken place across the country since the beginning of 2020, according to an August report from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and Everytown For Gun Safety. The report found that far-right militia and extremist groups were active in over half of the demonstrations.
At the beginning of 2020, paramilitary extremist groups came together to protest state mask mandates and shutdowns to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. By the summer of 2020, many of these groups appeared regularly at protests that were organized in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, others, with armed extremists often squaring off against Black Lives Matter protesters. And by the fall of 2020, these groups were organizing at the behest of Donald Trump, in an attempt to thwart the 2020 election results—not just at the U.S. Capitol but at ballot-counting centers around the country.
In recent weeks, extremism experts have warned that threat of violence is still a major concern. Experts say that an increase in COVID-19 safety measures, combined with recent Census data showing a decline in the country's white population, and a continued backlash to Biden's presidency from far-right and anti-government groups, have all contributed to a persistent threat of homegrown state violence.
Even as the FBI and the Department of Justice are undergoing an unprecedented effort to charge the hundreds of people who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, the threat posed by domestic terror groups looms large.
"This ideologically motivated violence—domestic terrorism—underscores the symbolic nature of the National Capital Region and the willingness of some Domestic Violent Extremists to travel to events in this area and violently engage law enforcement and their perceived adversaries," Wray told members of Congress on Tuesday.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.