FBI ‘dismissed’ threat of white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement even as its own investigations raised alarm

The number of domestic terror investigations underway has more than doubled in three years

Richard Hall
New York
Wednesday 10 March 2021 23:40
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FBI director says domestic terrorism has been 'metastasizing'
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A leading Democratic lawmaker has called on the FBI to explain why it “dismissed” the threat of white supremacists seeking to infiltrate law enforcement at a time when its own investigators were raising the alarm internally.

Jamie Raskin, Democratic congressman from Maryland and chairman of the house civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee, wrote to FBI chief Christopher Wray to request a briefing following the leak of an internal agency report which found extremists were trying to infiltrate law enforcement and the military.

"I am deeply concerned that the bureau dismissed this threat last year and instead characterized the threat of white-supremacist infiltration of law enforcement as a hypothetical problem that has not materialized," Mr Raskin wrote, referring to a 2020 committee hearing on the subject.

“During my ongoing investigation into this problem, the Bureau repeatedly told this Subcommittee that there was no evidence of a significant threat,” he added.

Mr Raskin told ABC News, which first reported the leaked investigation, that the FBI had “failed to level with the American people” and called for a hearing to take place before the end of the month to address what he claimed was a discrepancy between the FBI’s earlier position and its own internal findings. 

It comes just a day after the FBI investigation, which was dated 25 February this year, was leaked to ABC News. Based on four years of investigations between 2016 and 2020, it found that white supremacists and other extremists would “very likely seek affiliation with military and law enforcement entities" in order to carry out violence against minority groups.

The document was titled “Siege-Inspired Actors Very Likely Seek Military and Law Enforcement Affiliation, Increasing Risk of Tradecraft Proliferation and Color of Law Offenses in the FBI San Antonio Area of Responsibility."

It was authored by agents and analysts in the FBI’s San Antonio division, who assessed that racially motivated violent extremists “almost certainly will gain access to non-public tradecraft and information, enabling them to enhance operational security and develop new tactics in and beyond the FBI San Antonio" region," the report said, according to ABC News.

The report found evidence that extremists had expressed “a desire to join the military and law enforcement primarily to obtain tradecraft to prepare for and initiate a collapse of society, specifically by engaging in violence against the US government and specified racial and ethnic groups.”

The issue of extremist infiltration of law enforcement has become more pressing since the storming of the Capitol building by supporters of Donald Trump on 6 January.  At least 33 of the more than 300 arrested for their role in the attack are current or former military members and five worked in law enforcement.

Mr Wray, testifying before the senate judiciary committee last week, said domestic terror was a “top concern” for the FBI. He added that there were currently 2,000 ongoing investigations into domestic terrorism, more than double the amount than were underway when he took over three years ago.

Mr Raskin wrote in his letter to Mr Wray that “the shocking participation of law enforcement personnel in the January 6 domestic terrorist attack against Congress and our Capitol Police means that the Bureau must level with the American public about the steps it is taking to combat the infiltration of law enforcement departments by white supremacists”.

But it is not the first time that these concerns have been raised. Eric Ward, an extremism expert and senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said extremist infiltration of law enforcement was “nothing new,” and not enough has been done to address the threat.

“About 12 years before the January 6 insurrection the DHS warned of the infiltration of law enforcement and the military by white nationalists. It was released by federal intelligence officials. That warning was blasted by the Republican Party, the report was buried and it went unheeded,” Mr Ward told The Independent. “That memo was circulated to every law enforcement agency in the country. Most law enforcement agencies did nothing with that report.”

While it is hard to get an idea of how widespread the problem of white supremacist infiltration has become, Mr Ward said that these groups had been able to gain a foothold because law enforcement agencies had not tackled the issue head on. That reluctance is down to “unconscious racism in our society.”

“The reason the FBI has downplayed it is that unconscious racism in our society always positions people of colour as more threatening in the eyes of society. We watched this play out over the last year during the George Floyd protests, where law enforcement utilised quite brutal and Draconian crowd control tactics in interactions with racial justice protesters, and a hands-off approach to far right demonstrations around the country,” he said.

A spokesperson for the FBI said the agency had received the letter and would make no further comment.

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