WASHINGTON – FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers Thursday that antifa is an ideology, not an organization, delivering testimony that puts him at odds with President Donald Trump, who has said he would designate it a terror group.
Hours after the hearing, Trump took to Twitter to chastise his FBI director for his statements on antifa and on Russian election interference, two themes that dominated a congressional hearing on threats to the American homeland.
Referring to antifa, the president wrote: “And I look at them as a bunch of well funded ANARCHISTS & THUGS who are protected because the Comey/Mueller inspired FBI is simply unable, or unwilling, to find their funding source, and allows them to get away with “murder”. LAW & ORDER!”
The Twitter barbs thrust Wray again into a spotlight that he has spent three years trying to avoid after his predecessor, James Comey, became entangled in politics before being ultimately fired. Though Wray said as recently as Thursday that the FBI made unacceptable mistakes during its investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump nonetheless has intermittently lashed out at Wray over the pace of fixing those problems and continues to regard his intelligence community with suspicion because of the Russia probe.
Wray did not dispute in his testimony Thursday that antifa activists were a serious concern, saying that antifa was a “real thing” and that the FBI had undertaken “any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists,” including into individuals who identify with antifa.
But, he said, “It's not a group or an organization. It's a movement or an ideology.”
That characterization contradicts the depiction from Trump, who in June singled out antifa – short for “anti-fascists” and an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups – as responsible for the violence that followed George Floyd's death. Trump tweeted that the U.S. would be designating antifa as a terrorist organization.
The hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee – established after the Sept. 11 attacks to confront the threat of international terrorism – focused almost entirely on domestic matters, including violence by white supremacists as well as anti-government extremists.
The topics underscored the shift of attention by law enforcement at a time of intense divisions and polarization inside the country.
Wray sought to make clear the scope of the threats the country faces while resisting lawmakers' attempts to steer him into politically charged statements. When asked whether extremists on the left or the right posed the bigger threat, he pivoted instead to an answer about how solo actors, or so-called “lone wolves,” with easy access to weapons were a primary concern.