FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on Sept. 17, 2020. (House Homeland Security Committee video)

Wray Explains Antifa, QAnon, Boogaloo, and Racially Motivated Violence at Threats Hearing

FBI Director Christopher Wray explained to Congress on Thursday that Antifa is not an organization but an ideology, that individuals ascribing to QAnon conspiracy theories would only be investigated if they met domestic violent extremism criteria, and that racially motivated violent extremism has been the most violent and most prevalent among the Bureau’s domestic extremism cases.

Wray told lawmakers at the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on worldwide threats that the greatest threat to the homeland “is not one organization, certainly not one ideology, but rather lone actors, largely self-radicalized online, who pursue soft targets using readily accessible weapons.”

“And those include both domestic violent extremists of a variety of sorts as well as homegrown violent extremists who are motivated by foreign, you know, jihadist-type sources,” he said. “…The domestic violent extremists and the homegrown violent extremists, they don’t have a lot of people they’re working with. They don’t take a lot of planning and preparation. They can go from radicalization to mobilization in weeks, if not days. And so, the challenge of connecting the dots, working with NCTC and our other partners, is that much greater because there are that many fewer dots to connect and that much less time to do it. So, the time, as the experts say, from flash to bang is that much more daunting. So, that’s why that’s the biggest challenge to us here in the homeland.”

Asked whether Antifa constituted the greatest threat on the left, Wray replied that the FBI doesn’t “really think of threats in terms of left and right.”

“We’re focused on the violence, not the ideology,” he said. “Our domestic violent extremists include everything from racially motivated violent extremists… all the way to antigovernment, anti-authority violent extremists. And that includes people ranging from anarchist violent extremists, people who subscribe to Antifa or other ideologies, as well as militia types and those kinds.”

“We look at Antifa as more of an ideology or a movement that an organization. To be clear, we do have quite a number of properly predicated domestic terrorism investigations into violent anarchist extremists, any number of whom self-identify with the Antifa movement. And that’s part of this broader group of domestic violent extremists that I’m talking about, but it’s just one part of it. We also have racially motivated violent extremist\ militia types, and others.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) asked later in the hearing if Antifa is “a total fantasy, or is it real.” Wray replied that “Antifa is a real thing” yet “it’s not a group or an organization.”

“It’s a movement or an ideology, may be one way of thinking of it. And we have quite a number — and I’ve said this consistently since my first time appearing before this committee,” he added. “We have any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists, and some of those individuals self-identify with Antifa.”

Asked how the FBI views QAnon, Wray said it was seen “as essentially less of an organization and more of a sort of a complex set of conspiracy theories.”

“And certainly we have had cases where that properly predicate cases involving violence where people have been motivated by some of those conspiracy theories and …we don’t investigate the ideology or the conspiracy theory itself,” he said. “I don’t think we have seen lethal attacks involving that kind of motivation … no matter what ideology or belief it is of domestic violent extremism we look at three things: One, violence or a threat of violence; two, a federal crime, obviously; and then third the motivation that fuels it. We have to have those three things to open an investigation.”

Asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Wray replied, “We don’t express a view on the sort of political organization itself of Black Lives Matter. If there were people who follow that group or who adhere to that ideology who were then to, based on that ideology or anything else, to commit violent criminal activity then we would approach them just like we would anyone else.”

“Have you seen any excessive violence that can be attributable to Black Lives Matter as opposed to any other groups that may be involved in violence?” asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

“I can’t think of one sitting here right now. Certainly, we have had racially motivated violent extremist cases involving African-American defendants who have pursued violence against, say, law enforcement and whether any of those cases involve some reference to Black Lives Matter, sitting here right now, I can’t recall one, but we certainly have had cases of the first category,” Wray replied.

Asked if the FBI had cases of white individuals committing violence against officers as well, Wray responded, “Absolutely.”

Of the accused shooter who ascribed to the Boogaloo movement and is accused of killing a Federal Protective Service officer in Oakland this summer, Wray said “there was no evidence that he was participating in the protests himself.”

“I think there was information that he capitalized on the protest as a setting or a medium for which he could commit the tragic attack on the FPS officers,” he added.

“I think one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about people who subscribe to this sort of Boogaloo thinking is that their main focus is just dismantling, tearing down government, and they’re less clear on what it is they think they’re going to replace government with,” he said later in the hearing. “I’m not even sure they would all agree with each other.”

The FBI director said the Bureau usually has about 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations open each year, but “it’s higher than that this year, you know, a good bit north of 1,000 this year.” There have been about 120 arrests, “everything from racially motivated violent extremists to violent anarchist extremists, militia types, sovereign citizens, you name it.”

“Within the domestic terrorism bucket category as a whole, racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group,” Wray said. “And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people ascribing to some kind of white supremacist type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that… I would also add to that that racially motivated violent extremists over recent years have been responsible for the most lethal activity in the U.S.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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