Durbin Presses FBI Director Wray On Effort To Combat White Supremacist Violence

WASHINGTON—In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) pressed Director Wray on the Trump Administration’s shifting approach to tracking domestic terrorism incidents, which has obfuscated the white supremacist threat.  An unclassified May 2017 FBI-DHS joint intelligence bulletin found that “white supremacist extremism poses [a] persistent threat of lethal violence,” and that white supremacists were responsible for more homicides from 2000 to 2016 than any other domestic extremist movement. 

For the past decade, the FBI used a separate category to track white supremacist incidents. However, the Trump Administration has now created a new category for “racially-motivated violent extremism,” which inappropriately combines incidents involving white supremacists and so-called “Black identity extremists.”  Durbin led a letter to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Wray in May asking for additional information on this reclassification.  The Justice Department and FBI have not yet responded to this letter.

“The term ‘white supremacist’ / ‘white nationalist’ is not included in your statement to the Committee when you talk about threats to America… we live in a world where Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are taking lives in many places.  A white supremacist murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand.  In 2017, a white supremacist murdered six Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City, Canada.  And in the United States, far-right extremists perpetrated the shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California,” Durbin said.  “The reason I raise this is because there is a concern that this is not being taken as seriously as it should be as one of the real threats in our country, and a concern as well that the FBI has now changed its definition when it comes to race-related crimes.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks in Committee are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here.

In March, Durbin reintroduced the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act with Senators Blumenthal, Booker, Cardin, Coons, Duckworth, Harris, Kaine, Klobuchar, Markey, Whitehouse, Sanders, and Schatz; the bill is also cosponsored by Senators Reed, Van Hollen, Rosen, Murray, Menendez, Cantwell, and Hirono.  This bill – the only legislation pending in the Senate to address this threat – would enhance the federal government’s efforts to prevent domestic terrorism by requiring federal law enforcement agencies to regularly assess this threat, focus their resources on the most significant domestic terrorism threats, and provide training and resources to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement in addressing these threats.