Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today in a Judiciary Committee hearing questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on the rise in hate crimes, threat of white supremacist domestic terrorism groups, dramatic increase in the number of guns sales and January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Full transcript of the remarks:
Feinstein: “Last November, the Associated Press reported that hate crimes rose to the highest level in more than a decade. The AP also reported that the United States recorded the most hate-related killings since the FBI began collecting data in the [1990s]. Despite this finding, only about 14 percent of the agencies in the FBI hate crimes report indicated that hate crimes occurred in their jurisdictions. So here’s the questions. What actions are you taking to make it easier for local agencies to collect and report this data to the FBI?”
Wray: “So, I appreciate the question. As your question references, we do know that there is a phenomenon that I think is fairly widely accepted of underreporting of hate crimes. And so even though the number of hate crimes reported continues to grow, we don’t know whether that means the number of hate crimes is growing or whether the number of reports of it is now starting to grow. We are trying to do a lot. And we do hundreds of these outreach, training, et cetera, of state and local law enforcement to help them understand better how to identify and report hate crimes. We also have a manual that we put out that helps explain better how to identify that.
“Of course a lot of times the offenses that they are looking at under state and local laws don’t necessarily come with a neat label that says this is a hate crime on it, and so that’s part of the challenge. But we’re working with them to try to improve awareness so that we can get better reporting on the subject.”
White supremacists and domestic terrorism
Feinstein: “Well, that’s certainly appreciated. I want to ask about the threat of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. It isn’t new. But it’s gained a lot of attention within intelligence circles in recent years. And it’s the biggest domestic terrorism threat, I understand. Last year, you testified before the House Homeland Security Committee that ‘the most lethal of all domestic extremists since 2001 have been racially and ethnically motivated.’ Similarly, the former acting DHS secretary testified before the Senate that ‘white supremacist extremists from a lethality standpoint over the last two years, particularly when you look at 2018 and 19, are the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic extremists.’ Why is the threat of white supremacist terrorism so prevalent in this country?”
Wray: “I think that’s – some of that is a sociological question that I’m not sure that I’m the right person to address this. Certainly, as you say, it has been the biggest chunk of our racially motivated violent extremism cases and itself the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism caseload overall. And the most lethality over the last decade has been from these same extremists. The things that drive these people, I think range.
“One of the things that we struggle with in particular is 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. And in some cases, it seems like people coming up with their own sort of customized belief systems and they put it together, maybe combined with some personal grievance of something that’s happened in their lives and that drives them. So trying to get your arms around that is a real challenge.”
Feinstein: “Let me move on. There’s been a spike in gun sales during the pandemic. The New York Times reports that approximately 2 million guns were purchased in March of 2020. That’s the second-highest month ever. According to a July Politico article, there were 823,273 NICS checks in March of 2019 versus 1.4 million in March of 2020. So, in March of 2020, NICS blocked more than double the amount of the year before – a whopping 23,692 gun sales in one [month]. Simply put, there has been a dramatic rise in gun sales that’s likely going to require some further action. What have you seen, and what will the FBI be doing and/or recommending?”
Wray: “So, in terms of what we’re seeing, because we all share the goal of trying to keep guns out of the hands of those who are legally prohibited from possessing them, which is, of course, the whole point of why NICS exists. Last year, as you say, we’ve seen a significant increase. I think, the last time I checked, I think it was something of the top ten highest number of NICS checks, you know, per day or per week ever were all last year – maybe 7 of the top ten ever last year.
“So the numbers have been really significant during the course of 2020 and the pandemic. We have been trying very hard, and I think we’ve done a good job of staying on top of the required pace that we have to keep up with to be able to get that done, which has been required being creative because of COVID and teleworking and all the things that we’ve had to kind of workaround to keep up with that. But it is a challenge, and I think the budget requests that we’ve had recently have asked for more resources for NICS because we need to try to keep up with that pace.”
Attack on U.S. Capitol
Feinstein: “Thank you. As early as December 29, the FBI warned about the potential for armed demonstrators targeting legislatures. The former chief of Capitol Police as well as the House and Senate sergeants of arms have testified that they did not see the FBI’s warning on the eve of January 6 about potential violence in the Capitol. When did you first receive intelligence about the possibility of an attack on the Capitol on January 6? And what happened to the process that people weren’t seeing the warnings?”
Wray: “Well, senator, I think the intelligence or the information that you’re asking about is the much-discussed Norfolk SIR or Situational Information Report. I didn’t see that report, which was raw, unverified intelligence until some number of days after the [January 6.] But, again, that raw unverified information was passed within I think 40 minutes to an hour to our partners including the capitol police, including Metro PD and not one, not two, but three different ways. One email, one verbal and one through the law enforcement portal.
“As to why the information didn’t flow to all the people within the various departments that they would prefer, I don’t have a good answer for that. I will tell you the Capitol Police and Metro PD are terrific partners to the FBI, especially our Washington field office. I’m grateful for their partnership and have nothing but admiration for the hard work, courage and professionalism of the men and women who work in both of those agencies.”