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Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack

Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack
© Washington Post/Pool

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are pressing FBI Director Christopher Wray for answers on how his agency will better respond to the threats of extremism.

The request comes as Wray is set to appear before the committee next week -- his first appearance following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The committee on Wednesday asked the FBI to provide information on how it conducted investigations under the Trump administration, arguing the bureau diminished its focus on violent white supremacists and right-wing extremists generally during that period.

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“Unfortunately, the FBI appears to have taken steps in recent years that minimize the threat of white supremacist and far-right violence, a grave concern that some of us have raised with you on numerous occasions in recent years,” lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' Schumer warns Democrats can't let GOP block expansive agenda Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ MORE (D-Ill.) and signed by several other Democratic members.

Under former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE, the FBI adopted a new approach to tracking domestic terrorism, replacing a category specific to white supremacist extremists with a catch-all category called “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists.”

“This change obfuscates the threat posed by violent white supremacists by conflating them with so-called ‘Black identity extremists,’ a fabricated term criticized by law enforcement experts. While some of us have repeatedly asked you to justify this change, we have never received a satisfactory response,” the Senate Democrats wrote.

The FBI did not respond to request for comment but confirmed it received the letter. 

Wray in September told House lawmakers that racially motivated violent extremism cases account for the bulk of the bureau's work on domestic terrorist threats, adding that the FBI had about 1,000 domestic terrorism cases each year.

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The letter requests that the FBI to turn over stats on its investigations into domestic terrorism, with breakdowns of those that were considered to be racially motivated, including the number focused on white supremacist groups.

The senators also asked how many investigations were centered on anti-government extremists, including a breakdown of those focused on right-wing groups versus those on “Antifa or similar ideologies.”

The request comes as a number of GOP lawmakers have accused left-wing groups of violent demonstrations and damage to public property, though there is little to substantiate claims of left-wing involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The letter also asks the FBI to turn over figures on how many of its current or former agents were involved in the attack on the Capitol and spell out its plans for assessing domestic terror threats.