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FBI director: White nationalist violence is a “persistent, pervasive threat”

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a US House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the FBI’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 4, 2019.

His views match those of experts within the Department of Justice — just not the White House.

President Trump has largely shrugged off concerns about white nationalism in the United States — telling reporters on March 15 after awhite nationalist murdered 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, that “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.”

His FBI director takes the threat much more seriously.

During a House Appropriations Committee hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday, Wray said the danger of white nationalist and white nationalist extremists in America is “significant,” adding that, like other extremist groups, they are a “persistent, pervasive threat.”

That answer, in response to a question from Rep. Jose Serrano, matches the assessment of experts both within the Department of Justice and elsewhere. So does Director Wray’s argument that domestic terrorism is largely “less structured, less organized,” with “more uncoordinated, one-off individuals as opposed to some structured hierarchy,” which Wray said “presents its own share of challenges.”

As has been the case over and over again, from Oklahoma City to Oslo to Christchurch, “small groups of people” committed to the white nationalist cause can and have enacted horrific violence. Since 2007, the FBI reports that white nationalist and far-right violent attacks increased from roughly five incidents per year to 31 in 2017.

And concerns about white nationalist violence, specifically white nationalist “lone wolf”-style perpetrators like in Christchurch or the 2015 Charleston church massacre, have indeed been weighing on federal officials. As reported by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a November 2018 report on far-right extremism:

Today, some in the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and state and local law enforcement agencies have expressed alarm at far-right extremism. The Trump Administration’s counterterrorism strategy, released in October 2018, warned that the United States faces a threat from individuals motivated by types of violent extremism other than radical Islam, “such as racially motivated extremism, animal rights extremism, environmental extremism, sovereign citizen extremism, and militia extremism.” In April 2018, federal authorities charged 57 members of white supremacist organizations with drug trafficking and kidnapping. As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions remarked following the arrest, “Not only do white supremacist gangs subscribe to a repugnant, hateful ideology, they also engage in significant, organized and violent criminal activity.” He continued that “the Department of Justice has targeted every violent criminal gang member in the United States. The quantities of drugs, guns, and money seized in this case are staggering.”

However, despite federal concerns about white nationalist extremism, the federal funding to counter that extremism either hasn’t appeared or in some cases has even been rescinded by the Trump administration.

Now many experts — and members of Congress — are decrying the lack of funding for efforts to counter white nationalist extremism. In a letter to the House Appropriations Committee sent April 1, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) asked for increased funding to combat white nationalist groups, writing, “It is time to take the transnational threat of white supremacist terrorism as seriously as we’ve rightly taken the threat posed by other international terrorist organizations, and to give our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the mandate and resources they need to keep us safe.”

Civil rights groups and religious organizations have also been pressing the FBI and the Department of Justice to do more to counter white nationalist extremism.

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