Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday took issue with a newly released threat assessment on domestic violent extremism because it did not thoroughly take into account anarchist extremists who terrorized U.S. cities last summer.
“FBI Dir[.] Wray told Congress much of domestic extremism in 2020 was [from] anti-govt elements (anarchists+militias) But Biden admin assessment totally silent on anarchists+only mention militia side of anti-govt violence,” Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter in response to the brief intelligence community summary released Wednesday.
“What do u call burning/looting/murder across [the] country last summer?”
He pointed to statements made by FBI Director Christoper Wray to Congress in September 2020, who testified that the bureau has opened “properly predicated investigations into violent anarchist extremists who subscribe to, [or] self-identify with Antifa.”
“FBI Dir Wray also told Congress 2020 had as much anarchist extremism as [the] last 3yrs combined,” Grassley wrote in another statement. “No racially motivated murders in 2020 but 3 murders by anti-govt[.] extremists incl[.] Antifa.”
Democrats, including top party members, have dismissed or downplayed the severity of anarchist extremist groups such as Antifa who have been accused of perpetrating violence and rioting amid civil unrest last summer following the death of George Floyd. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) characterized Antifa rioting and violence in some cities such as Portland as a “myth” and referred to the extremist group as “imaginary” during a House speech last year.
During the September 2020 hearing, Wray acknowledged Antifa as “a real thing” but added that the bureau considers it as “a movement” or “an ideology” that individuals subscribe to rather than an organization with structure. He also added that individuals who identify with Antifa ideology coalesce in “small groups” or “nodes” and have the “potential for violence.”
“U wldnt [sic] know by reading Biden admin security assessment Stop politicizing threat assessments!” Grassley added.
The brief unclassified summary—assembled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—found that domestic extremists, motivated by a range of ideologies, are seen as risks for violence.
The intelligence community found that extremists motivated by biases against minority populations and perceived government overreach “will almost certainly” drive more “radicalization and mobilization to violence.”
Meanwhile, sociopolitical developments such as the narrative of fraud in the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol “will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] to try to engage in violence this year,” the assessment summary read.
The assessment was conducted after President Joe Biden in January tasked the DNI to assess the threat of domestic violent extremism following the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol. Biden and Democrats elevated the issue following the violence on that day, leaving critics concerned that the new administration may limit their focus on assessing domestic threats to the Jan. 6 events without attention to the violence unfolding across the country over the summer in 2020, triggered by the death of George Floyd.
The summary also concluded that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and militia violent extremists (MVE) present the most lethal threats. It found that some racially motivated extremists are “most likely” to “conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians,” while militia groups would be “typically targeting law enforcement and government personnel and facilities.”
“The IC assesses that the MVE threat increased last year and that it will almost certainly continue to be elevated throughout 2021 because of contentious sociopolitical factors that motivate MVEs to commit violence,” the intelligence officials wrote (pdf).
The officials also reiterated warnings about lone offenders or small cells of domestic extremists from different ideologies, saying that they are “more likely to carry out violent attacks in the Homeland than organizations that allegedly advocate a DVE ideology.”
According to the summary, domestic violent extremists are defined as U.S.-based individuals who “conduct or threaten activities that are dangerous to human life in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state; appearing to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; and influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, as per the definition of domestic terrorism” under federal law.
The assessment didn’t take into account people who engage in “advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric, or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics,” as those actions may be constitutionally protected.