America's greatest domestic terror threat stems from racially and ethnically motivated extremists, following a record high in hate-motivated attacks and the rise of neo-Nazi and white supremacist violence now formally recognised by the FBI as significant a threat to the US as terror groups abroad.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the threat of far-right domestic violent extremism has risen to a "national threat priority" for 2020, posing a "steady threat of violence and economic harm" to the US while its underlying drivers — including "perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, socio-political conditions, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and reactions to legislative actions" — persist.
Mr Wray said the FBI is "most concerned about lone offender attacks", which have "served as the dominant lethal mode" for domestic terror incidents.
In 2019, the FBI made 107 domestic terrorism arrests, on pace with the number of arrests it made for international terrorism. Racism and hate-driven ideologies were the driving forces behind most of the ideologically motivated killings and violence in the US in 2018 and 2019, and were the most lethal of all domestic extremism movements over the last 20 years.
He said: "The spate of attacks we saw in 2019 underscore the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes. Such crimes are not limited to the United States and, with the aid of Internet like-minded hate groups, can reach across borders."
In response, the FBI announced the launch of a Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell in 2019, which allows the organisation to allocate as much resources to combat domestic terrorism as it does to combat other terror-linked groups.
The FBI now appears to treat white supremacist violence and domestic extremists motivated by foreign terror groups like Isis and al-Qaeda as similarly organised threats — both use the Internet to radicalise and turn to "soft targets" in public areas, from stores to places of worship, to commit violence.
He said: "Regardless of the specific ideology involved, the FBI requires that all domestic terrorism investigations be predicated based on activity intended to further a political or social goal, wholly or in part involving force, coercion, or violence, in violation of federal law."
In early 2019, then-DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen insisted that Islamist militants such as al-Qaeda and Isis remained the country's "primary terrorist threat".
Following waves of mass shootings and other hate-motivated attacks, Americans have pressured the government to combat white supremacism and far-right violence, accusing Donald Trump's administration of abetting white nationalism and turning a blind eye to ideologically driven violence in the US while combatting terror groups abroad.
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