FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday sought to beat back right-wing conspiracy theories suggesting that fake supporters of former president Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
It was Wray's first testimony in Congress since the attack — a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden's November election victory — was carried out by supporters of Trump who, in a speech near the White House, exhorted them to march to the Capitol in protest.
"I was appalled that you, our country's elected leaders, were victimized right here in these very halls," Wray testified before the Senate's judiciary committee.
"That siege was criminal behaviour, pure and simple. It's behaviour that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism."
Early on, Republicans on the panel sought to equate the Jan. 6 riot to the occasional violence that ensued in months of racial justice protests in dozens of U.S. cities last year. The senior Republican on the panel, Chuck Grassley, made repeated references to Antifa and left-wing violence, including a fatal shooting incident in Portland last year and the near-fatal shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise in 2017 by a suspect who posted a photo of Bernie Sanders on his Facebook profile.
But Wray was unequivocal in terms of what the agency has learned so far in terms of Jan. 6.
"We have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th," he said.
Last month in another Senate hearing, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin brought up the possibility that "agent provocateurs" and "fake Trump protesters" had circulated among the crowd on Jan. 6, citing an article by a right-wing think-tank.
Wray said there had been no evidence presented yet of fake Trump protesters crashing the event, which appears to have been planned for weeks according to previous testimony, and he reiterated his assertion from 2020 hearings that white supremacists "have been responsible for the most lethal attacks over the last decade" in terms of domestic terrorism.
Hundreds charged so far
The U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 300 people on criminal counts ranging from conspiracy to attacking police and obstructing Congress. The rioting led to five deaths.
At least 18 people associated with the far-right Proud Boys — which Canada labelled a terrorist group last month — have been charged and nine people tied to the anti-government militia known as the Oath Keepers are facing charges they conspired as far back as November to storm the Capitol to prevent Biden from becoming president.
Biden took office on Jan. 20.
The FBI has yet to arrest any suspects in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, or for pipe bombs that were discovered outside the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.
The FBI has obtained a video that shows a suspect spraying bear spray on police officers, including Sicknick, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.
In a newly unsealed search warrant, investigators say rioters carried weapons inside the Capitol including tire irons, sledge hammers, stun guns, bear spray and, in at least one case, a handgun with an extended magazine.
"Everyone involved must take responsibility for their actions that day, including our former president," Grassley said.
WATCH | Former FBI agent Jack Cloonan on the domestic terrorism threat:
Senate judiciary committee chair Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said the government has not done enough to protect against threats from far-right extremists and white supremacists, and accused the Trump administration of playing down those threats.
He said the Trump administration "never set up a task force to combat the numerous incidents" from the far-right, and instead focused on Black Lives Matter activists.