FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday that Russia is “very active” in its efforts to rig the election in favor of President Donald Trump and that its primary objective is to “denigrate” former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president.
“Yes I think the intelligence community’s concensus is that Russia continues to try to influence our elections, primarily through ‘malign foreign influence,'” which differs “from what we saw in 2016 where there was also an effort to target election infrastructure, you know, cybertargeting,” Wray told lawmakers. “We’ve not seen that second part yet, this year or this cycle, but we certainly have seen very active, very active efforts by the Russians to influence our elections in 2020 through more than what I would call more on the ‘malign foreign influence’ side of things – social media, use of proxies, state media, online journals, etc – an effort to both sow divisiveness and discord. And, and I think the intelligence community has assessed this publicly, primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden.”
The Russians “see kind of an anti-Russian establishment” coalescing under a Biden Administration, Wray said. “That’s essentially what we’re seeing.”
FBI Dir. Wray: Get your voting information from official websites, not social media pic.twitter.com/Iiepwq7jQU
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) September 17, 2020
Wray explained that “particularly of concern” within the FBI and intelligence circles “in an election context when Americans make the mistake of getting information about elections themselves… it’s one thing to push misinformation about a policy or a candidate or something else,” Wray contended, but “when information gets pushed out about where you go to vote, whether your polling place is open, whether it’s closed, that kinda thing… we’re trying to make sure Americans know how to get information about where and when and how you vote.”
Wray urged voters to “go to your local election officials’ website” for legitimate election information and to not “take it from social media.”
Wray also acknowledged the alarming rate at which right-wing extremists are threatening national security.
Wray was pressed pointedly on the subject by Congressman Elissa Slotkin, a freshman Democrat from Michigan.
“I think the thing that we’re all struggling with is, you know, there are these homegrown terrorists of every flavor and type,” Slotkin said. “But just in the number of cases or arrests, how many of them are white supremacists? What is it, if not the exact number, is it the same as other types of domestic terrorism? Is it higher? Just give us a level of approximate numbers.”
Wray confirmed that race-based, right-wing violence is the “biggest chunk” within the “bucket” of domestic terror threats, but did not cite specific statistics.
FBI Dir. Wray confirms that white supremacists make up the largest share of racially motivated terrorists in the United States pic.twitter.com/tLXEnHAggF
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) September 17, 2020
“Well what I can tell you is within the domestic terrorism bucket, the category as a whole, racially-motivated violent extremism is I think the biggest bucket within that larger group. Within the racially-motivated violent extremism bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that.”
Wray was asked later in the hearing if more violence eminated from the left or the right.
“We don’t really think of threats in terms of left and right at the FBI, we’re focused on the violence, not the ideology,” Wray replied. “Our domestic violence extremists include everything from racially-motivated violent extremists, which we’ve talked about here in this committee before… all the way to anti-government, anti-authority government extremists, and that includes people ranging from anarchist violent extremists, people who subscribe to ANTIFA ideologies, as well as militia types and those kinds.”
But Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS), did not buy into Wray’s nebulous ‘both sides’ response.
“We hear from time to time that this organization – by name – we need to investigate,” Thompson said. “But if I’m hearing from you correctly, it’s really not organizations so much as it is ideology. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but I think that’s what I heard.”
Wray tried to clarify, but his answer remained fuzzy:
We look at ANTIFA more an as ideology or a movement than 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 group of domestic violent extremists that I’m talking about. But it’s just one part of it. We also have the racially-motivated violent extremists, the militia types, and others.
NBC News noted that the “FBI’s investigations into domestic violent extremists have increased in 2020, having made more than 120 arrests and opened over 1,000 investigations.”
On April 6, 2020, the State Department designated a white supremacist group as a terrorist organization, the first time it has made such a decision.
“Today’s designations send an unmistakable message that the United States will not hesitate to use our sanctions authorities aggressively and that we are prepared to target any foreign terrorist group, regardless of ideology, that threatens our citizens, our interests abroad or our allies,” said Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s top counter terrorism official.
The organization, called the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), “has provided paramilitary training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and recruited from overseas, especially Europeans, but reportedly including some Americans as well, according to Sales,” ABC News reported at the time.
What's Your Reaction?
Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.