FBI Director Chris Wray bluntly labelled the January 6 riot at the US Capitol as "domestic terrorism" today and warned of a rapidly growing threat of homegrown violent extremism.
Wray also defended to lawmakers his own agency's handling of an intelligence report that warned of the prospect for violence on January 6, and firmly rejected false claims advanced by some Republicans that anti-Trump groups had organised the deadly riot.
Wray's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his first before Congress since the insurrection, was the latest in a series of hearings centered on the law enforcement response to the Capitol insurrection.
Lawmakers pressed him not only about possible intelligence and communication failures ahead of the riot but also about the threat of violence from white supremacists, militias and other extremists that the FBI says it is prioritising with the same urgency as the menace of international terrorism organisations.
"January 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasising across the country for a long time now and it's not going away anytime soon," Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"At the FBI, we've been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now."
The violence at the Capitol made clear that a law enforcement agency that remade itself after the September 11, 2001, attacks to deal with international terrorism is now labouring to address homegrown violence by white Americans.
President Joe Biden's administration has tasked his national intelligence director to work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat. And in applying the domestic terrorism label to conduct inside the Capitol, Wray sought to make clear to senators that he was clear-eyed about the scope and urgency of the threat.
Wray said the number of domestic terrorism investigations has increased from around 1000 when he became FBI director in 2017 to about 2000 now. The number of white supremacist arrests has almost tripled, he said.
Many of the senators' questions on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) centred on the FBI's handling of a January 5 report from its Norfolk, Virginia, field office that warned of online posts foreshadowing a "war" in Washington the following day.
Capitol Police leaders have said they were unaware of that report and had received no intelligence from the FBI that would have led them to expect the sort of violence that besieged them on the 6th.
Five people died that day, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot as she tried to climb through a smashed window into the House chamber with lawmakers still inside.
Wray said the report was disseminated though the FBI's joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post in Washington and posted on an internet portal available to other law enforcement agencies.
Though the information was raw, unverified and appeared aspirational in nature, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that "the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it".
"We did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and [Metropolitan Police Department] in not one, not two, but three different ways," Wray said, though he added that since the violence that ensued was "not an acceptable result", the FBI was looking into what it could have done differently.
The sprawling Justice Department investigation into the riot has already produced hundreds of charges, including against members of militia groups and far-right organisations.
The crowd in Washington that day ranged from protesters who did not break any laws to a smaller group that arrived determined to commit violence against police and disrupt Congress from its duties, Wray said.
Asked whether there was evidence that the attack was planned or carried out by antifa — an umbrella term for leftist militants — or by Trump opponents posing as his loyalists, Wray said that there was not. Some on the right have made such false contentions.