Republicans on a House Oversight subcommittee used a hearing on the White House’s domestic terrorism strategy to press top counterterrorism officials about graffiti outside a member’s home and the egging of a GOP candidate in the recent California gubernatorial recall.
The Wednesday session of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee – the sixth in a series dating back to last year – was ostensibly meant to examine the strategy for countering domestic violent extremism unveiled by the Biden administration this past June and the federal government’s ability to confront the problem of domestic extremism.
Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, the subcommittee’s chairman, warned that the danger of domestic extremism has become yet more dire in the wake of the 6 January attack on the Capitol, thanks to former President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of his loss to President Joe Biden.
“We’re facing an unprecedented situation in which political leaders – up to and including a former president – have been actively promoting corrosive anti-democratic messages that circulate paranoia, cynicism, and violence,” said Mr Raskin, who added that under the Biden administration, the US government “has finally woken up to the need to combat comprehensively and effectively white supremacist and militia-based violent extremism”.
Yet while Mr Raskin said he hoped the hearing would “bring more clarity and exposure” to the Biden administration’s plans, some of his GOP colleagues had other things on their minds.
When Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer yielded his question time to South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace, Ms Mace – the subcommittee’s newly minted ranking member – pressed FBI Assistant Director Timothy Langan on the number of acts of domestic terrorism committed by individuals who are part of “Antifa”, a loosely organised movement that describes itself as “anti-fascist” and whose members often clash with right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys.
Although Republicans, including former President Trump, often invoke “Antifa” as a boogeyman and cite it as a threat on par with violent right-wing extremist groups, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in congressional testimony last year that his agency considers it to be an ideology or movement rather than an organised group.
When Mr Langan, who oversees the FBI’s counter-terrorism division, told the freshman representative that the bureau does not keep specific records on the number of violent crimes committed by “Antifa” members, she called his reply “interesting” and recounted an incident in which her home was allegedly vandalised by “Antifa” members this past summer.
“Antifa is real. It’s not a myth. I have been a victim of some of the anarchists Antifa type of activity, violence, whatever you want to call it,” Ms Mace said.
“I even had my house spray painted this summer,” she said, referring to the alleged graffiti at her house. At the time, some internet commentators noted similarities between the spraypainted lettering and Ms Mace’s own handwriting, but she has insisted that “Antifa” is responsible.
Another GOP representative, Florida’s Byron Donalds, questioned Mr Langan on whether the FBI considered incident last month involving former California recall candidate and conservative talk radio personality Larry Elder to be a case of domestic terror.
Mr Elder, who is Black, was campaigning in Venice Beach last month when a woman wearing a gorilla mask threw an egg at him.
“Does the FBI consider that to be domestic terror and/or white supremacy?” Mr Donalds asked.
A person familiar with Democratic committee members’ thinking characterised the GOP’s focus on things like “Antifa” and the egging of Mr Elder as “a f***ing clown show”.
“We’ve got honest-to-God scary stuff going on in this country and members of Congress are asking the FBI about a simple assault handled by local police? As the president would say: Come on, man!” the person said.
In an interview with The Independent in his office Wednesday afternoon, Mr Donalds made clear that he understands that the FBI does not investigate simple assault incidents such as the egging of Mr Elder, and said it is “all well and good” that local police are investigating the incident.
The freshman Florida congressman – one of just two Black House Republicans – defended his line of questioning as appropriate given the potential for an attacker to escalate in the future.
“For a Black Republican to be attacked with an egg or or yelled at or pushed around or whatever the case might be, at what point does that not escalate?” he said. “If you’re a black Democrat, the level of scrutiny is far different than if you’re a black Republican, and I…trying to hear how the FBI view that, especially in light of the fact that what the FBI is looking at with respect to their data on domestic terrorism, they do not delineate amongst political ideology”.
Mr Donalds, who criticised his Democratic colleagues for characterising racially-motivated extremist violence as emanating solely from the political Right, said a discussion of what political ideology motivates attacks has to include violence from all sides and cited the 2017 shooting in which House GOP Whip Steve Scalise was wounded while practicing for the annual congressional charity baseball game.
“if you’re going to do a detailed analysis of where domestic terror comes from and what its origins are and trying to find ways to stop it, if that’s going to be the main issue we’re going to try to talk about, you have to try to delineate where on the political spectrum your threats are really coming from,” he said.
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