WASHINGTON – FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that the bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the past nine months and that most investigations of that kind involve some form of white supremacy – though an FBI spokeswoman later clarified the percentage is smaller.
The figure, which Wray conceded was imprecise, is similar to the number of arrests made in international terrorism cases and represents an uptick compared with the prior year. He revealed the data at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, seeking to assure lawmakers that the bureau was aggressively pursuing cases of racially motivated violence.
“Needless to say, we take domestic terrorism or hate crime, regardless of ideology, extremely seriously,” Wray said.
Asked for more specific data, an FBI spokeswoman clarified after Wray’s testimony that the bureau has recorded about 90 domestic terrorism arrests, compared with about 100 international terrorism arrests. The official also said that when Wray asserted a “majority of the domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence,” he meant only that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases involving a racial motive were believed to be spurred by white supremacy.
At a congressional hearing in May, the head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division testified that the bureau was investigating 850 domestic terrorism cases and that of those, about 40% involved racially motivated violent extremists. Most in that group, he said, were white supremacists.
Wray pointed to several recent high-profile arrests, including that of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson, who prosecutors have alleged is a white nationalist who stockpiled weapons in a plot to target journalists and politicians, and the men accused in mass shootings at synagogues in California and Pennsylvania.
In the 2017 budget year, FBI investigations led to the arrest of about 150 domestic terrorism suspects, according to law enforcement officials. The following year, the figure was about 120. Most arrested as the result of FBI terrorism investigations are charged with non-terrorism offenses, and about 1 in 4 arrests are made by state and local authorities, rather than the bureau.
Wray said the bureau does not investigate any group merely for its beliefs. But when those beliefs produce violence, he said, “we’re all over it.”
Wray also faced questions on a swath of other topics, including bias in the FBI, what the bureau is doing to stem foreign interference in U.S. elections, and threats faced from overseas.
He revealed the FBI had “completed a significant internal investigation” of its failure to act on a tip that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz might attack a school just weeks before authorities say Cruz gunned down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Wray said the investigation had spurred changes, though he did not detail what those were.
The FBI director repeatedly called out China, saying no other country “poses a more severe counterintelligence threat.” He said the FBI has more than 1,000 investigations involving attempted intellectual-property theft, “almost all leading back to China.”
Wray noted in response to questions about the bureau’s impartiality that he had changed the top leadership since taking over as director two years ago, instituted new policies and held a one-day training for senior executives stressing that even the “appearance of objectivity” was important.
He said he was cooperating with a review of the origins of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That inquiry was initiated by Attorney General William Barr in response to his concerns about the propriety of some early steps taken in the case.