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FBI director sounds the alarm on the growing threat of domestic terrorism

For the first time since the January insurrection, FBI director Christopher Wray faced lawmakers on Tuesday, reflecting on the Capitol attack and the growing challenges of domestic terrorism. The hearing came as authorities make near-daily arrests related to those attacks. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the first time since the January insurrection, FBI Director Christopher Wray faced lawmakers today reflecting on the Capitol attack and the growing challenge of domestic terrorism.

    Lisa Desjardins takes us into the hearing room.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I'd like to turn to a video to demonstrate the scale of violence and the hate that we witnessed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They started with dramatic video of the January 6 attack itself, in the words of officers who were there.

    After watching, FBI Director Chris Wray's own words were unequivocal.

  • Christopher Wray:

    I was appalled, like you, at the violence and destruction that we saw that day. It's behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Repeatedly, the hearing focused on January 5 FBI intelligence warning of Internet chatter calling for war at the Capitol. Wray called the intelligence uncorroborated, but said his agents properly forwarded it within an hour.

  • Christopher Wray:

    We did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and MPD in, not one, not two, but three different ways.

    Having said that, I do not consider what happened on January 6 to be an acceptable result. And that's why we're looking so hard at figuring out, how can the process be improved?

  • Carrie Cordero:

    There was a lot of information ahead of time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Carrie Cordero with the Center for a New American Security previously worked in U.S. intelligence, and she does not see this as an intelligence failure.

  • Carrie Cordero:

    This was primarily a security failure. And then it's also possible that it was simply a lack of understanding on the part of the security personnel at the Capitol of the severity of the threat that was coming at them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The hearing comes as the FBI continues to make near daily arrests related to the riot, so far, more than 300 people, with charges ranging from trespassing to conspiracy against the government.

    Monday, federal prosecutors filed a revealing document in the case against Proud Boy leader Ethan Nordean, seen here with a megaphone on January 6. This charges that he and other Proud Boys raised money and collected protective gear weeks ahead.

    On January 6, prosecutors allege, they used high-tech radios to communicate and purposely dressed incognito, no Proud Boy colors or clothing. This, prosecutors say, was to help with their plan to turn others in the crowd, who they called normies or normiecons, to join them in violent attack.

    Wray said this is the rising threat, extremists with splintered motives.

  • Christopher Wray:

    That more and more, the ideologies, if you will, that are motivating some of these violent extremists are less and less coherent, less and less linear, less and less easy to kind of pin down.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yet they are able to launch what he calls inspired attacks, like on January 6, turning large groups of people to violence.

  • Christopher Wray:

    They don't have a formal membership in an organization. They don't have clear command control and direction, in the way that, say, an al-Qaida sleeper cell might have. And that that's much more challenging to pursue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans sought to expand the conversation about domestic extremism to talk of anarchist groups on the left, which Wray indicated are being arrested more.

  • Sen. Charles Grassley:

    We must call extremism wherever it happens, across the board, left or right, every time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats sharply pushed back at the notion of multiple sides.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Do you have any evidence that the Capitol attack was organized by — quote — "fake Trump protesters"?

  • Christopher Wray:

    We have not seen evidence of that at this stage, certainly.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What Wray does see is a specific threat skyrocketing now.

  • Christopher Wray:

    The number of arrests, for example, of racially motivated violent extremists who are what you would categorize as white supremacists last year was almost triple the number it was in my first year as director.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Wray said there is also a rise in militia extremism.

    Again, Cordero.

  • Carrie Cordero:

    He was absolutely sounding the alarm that the domestic violent extremist threat is substantial and it is on par, if not exceeds, what we used to think about in terms of a foreign terrorist or international terrorist threat.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hearings with other officials, including from the Pentagon, continue tomorrow.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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