FBI director says far-right Capitol riot was ‘domestic terror’

Democratic lawmakers point to the targeting of Black Lives Matter activists to show authorities neglected far-right threat.

FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters]

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday accused supporters of former President Donald Trump who carried out a deadly January 6 attack on the United States Capitol of “domestic terrorism” and promised to hold them accountable as calls grow for increased measures to combat far-right violence.

“I was appalled that you, our country’s elected leaders, were victimised right here in these very halls,” Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“That siege was criminal behaviour, pure and simple. It’s behaviour that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.”

It was Wray’s first testimony in Congress since the attack – a failed bid to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s November election victory – was carried out by supporters of then-President Trump who, in a speech near the White House, exhorted them to march to the Capitol in protest.

“Everyone involved must take responsibility for their actions that day, including our former president,” the panel’s Ranking Republican Charles Grassley said.

“Now, in the wake of January 6, we must seriously examine the threats of domestic extremism.”

Observers and rights groups have noted the increased talk of a “domestic terrorism” designation could lead to legislation that would give increased powers to federal authorities to monitor and criminalise dissent when law enforcement has enough tools to conduct such investigations.

Deadly riot

The Justice Department has charged more than 300 people on criminal counts ranging from conspiracy to attacking police and obstructing Congress. The rioting led to five deaths.

Many of the accused have espoused far-right views or are members of far-right groups.

At least 18 people associated with the far-right Proud Boys have been charged and nine people tied to the anti-government militia known as the Oath Keepers are facing charges they conspired as far back as November to storm the Capitol to prevent Biden from becoming president in support of Trump.

“Those people do not represent the people I know and love in the Trump movement,” former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News in excerpts of a Fox interview released on Monday.

McEnany said, “At the beginning of the day, before everyone went to the rally, everybody was expecting peace. We had been to hundreds of rallies ― I’ve probably been to hundreds at this point, certainly many dozens ― and they were nothing but peaceful events, and we expected that day to be the same.”

Numerous protests by pro-Trump far-right groups like the Proud Boys turned violent during Trump’s tenure.

Proud Boys member Joe Biggs, front row second from left in a grey plaid shirt, poses with other members on January 6, 2021; he was later arrested for involvement in the storming of the US Capitol building [File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said the government has not done enough to protect against threats from “far-right extremists and white supremacists”, and accused the Trump administration of playing down those threats.

He added that the Trump administration “never set up a task force to combat the numerous incidents” from the far right, and instead focused on Black Lives Matter activists.

The FBI has yet to arrest any suspects in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, or for pipe bombs that were discovered outside the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.

The FBI has obtained a video that shows a suspect spraying bear spray on police officers, including Sicknick, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.

The suspect has yet to be identified by name, and it is still unclear if the bear spray contributed to Sicknick’s death.

In a newly unsealed search warrant, investigators say rioters carried weapons inside the Capitol including tire irons, sledgehammers, tasers, bear spray and, in at least one case, a handgun with an extended magazine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies