Shortly before the deadly Unite the Right rally, in 2017, the FBI and DHS produced a joint intelligence bulletin concluding that white supremacist groups were responsible for carrying out more attacks on U.S. soil than any other ideology or movement in the previous 16 years. The report, which was published just three months before the killing of Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi, should’ve been a glaring warning to local and federal law enforcement across the U.S., yet its findings appear not to have been heeded by Charlottesville police who stood idly by and allowed hundreds of white extremists to stage a race riot. But it was Donald Trump who had consistently downplayed the threat, both before the 2016 election, when he flirted with far-right supporters online, and after, when he referred to white extremist rioters as “very fine people,” while simultaneously ginning up concerns about leftist and Black radicals.
In a tumultuous election year, the president has repeatedly declined to condemn his far-right supporters, even going so far as to order the Proud Boys—a violent pro-Trump gang, members of which were in attendance at Unite the Right—to “stand by.” Trump’s reluctance to derail the threat of white extremism has been evident in his hinting at firing FBI Director Christopher Wray for designating racially motivated violence as the top domestic terrorism threat. And now, with the U.S. one week out from a presidential election that has heightened fears of political violence, the bureau has not fulfilled a legal obligation to release its reporting on domestic terrorism threats—including far-right violence—that the nation could face after November 3.
According to the Daily Beast, the FBI’s negligence in producing such findings, which were expected to be finished in June, keeps prosecutors, local law enforcement, and public officials out of the loop regarding what threats must be prioritized and what resources are being doled out to minimize those threats. “I would hate to think that they are reacting to President Trump’s machinations about his dislike for senior leadership in the FBI,” said House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson in a statement to the Daily Beast. “This report probably would not be viewed favorably by this administration. That, I think, precipitates the report not being released by Nov. 3.” The Mississippi Democrat went on to say that the nation “needs to know who the real, documented terrorists in this country, based on the FBI’s intelligence, really are”—vital information that the public relies on the FBI for. “I think [Wray] understands that if he wades too far in the water around this subject, he might drown, or get fired, to be honest.”
In response to the implication that the FBI’s four-month delay might be politically motivated, a spokesperson claimed that the holdup is solely due to “limitations caused by COVID-19.” However, the bureau is potentially bucking a legal requirement by conveniently not publishing its preelection findings on domestic terrorism. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), in its most up-to-date iteration according to the Daily Beast, mandates that the FBI, as per the Department of Homeland Security’s request and with help from Office of Director of National Intelligence, produce a report on both the current top domestic terrorism threats; the ideologies relating to domestic terrorism; and how the law enforcement and national security apparatus are preparing to ensure those threats are not realized. According to the Daily Beast, the NDAA should detail “the necessity of changing authorities, roles, resources or responsibilities within the Federal Government to more effectively prevent and counter domestic terrorism activities.”
Even as Trump has, at best, downplayed the threats of white extremist groups and, at his worst, winked, nodded, and otherwise flirted with them, he has continuously pressured the federal government to condemn antifascist protesters as terrorists. “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” the president tweeted earlier this spring, implying that a disjointed ideological movement of U.S. citizens deserves the same treatment as international militant groups placed on the State Department’s designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. However, there is no one federal agency with the legal authority to label groups of protesters in such a way—not only because antifa is not an organized group and is devoid of a hierarchy, stated goals, or any sort of national structure and official membership, but also due to the U.S. lacking a domestic terrorism designation law.
But that reality has not stopped the Trump administration from attempting to target antifa and Black Lives Matter like terrorist groups, as Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of DHS, explained to Fox News in August after host Tucker Carlson called for the feds to use RICO charges to arrest “the leaders” of those movements. Wolf replied by saying that Attorney General William Barr is already “working on it,” adding, “The Department of Justice is also targeting and investigating the head of these organizations, the individuals that are paying for these individuals to move across the country.” Wolf’s anti-antifascist crusade is especially notable, given that the NDAA requires the FBI to produce its extremism report in accordance with DHS—the current director of which is busy looking for the leaders of leaderless leftist movements, rather than being concerned with America’s litany of highly energized far-right groups and militias.
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