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Will the FBI investigate domestic terrorism?


I was watching today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic security, in which FBI director Robert Wray was grilled by both Democrats and Republicans. My takeaway, which I find interesting but also disturbing, is that neither the FBI nor its sister intelligence agencies has any “list” of domestic terror organizations, such as the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers, the way they do maintain lists of foreign terror organizations, like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Wray was asked by Senators from both parties about this discrepancy, but he couldn’t really answer it, nor would he even say if he thought it would be a good idea to formally identify domestic terror groups. I found that surprising, given statements made in the past by top American security officials, including Republicans, that identify white nationalists as the nation’s biggest threat.

Dianne Feinstein certainly drove this point home in her questions to Wray, but the most surprising Senator, for me, was none other than Lindsay Graham, Donald Trump’s favorite Senator. At the conclusion of his questioning, Graham told Wray, concerning a formal list of domestic terror groups, “It may be time for us to think about making one.” Of course, Graham included Antifa along with the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers, but I’m okay with that, if by Antifa he meant the thugs that have been tearing apart major American cities, in the name of racial equality.

Obviously, this whole issue of domestic terror, and what the government should do about it, is an emerging one. The U.S. government seldom acts quickly, even in matters of national security. (Events like Sept. 11 are the rare exception.) The Senate, in particular, was designed by the Founders to move slowly, as a kind of cooling-off chamber from the heat of the House of Representatives. But I do sense an emerging national consensus, even among Republicans, that our security agencies need to do a better job identifying these domestic terror groups, of infiltrating them, of electronically eavesdropping on them, of learning of their nefarious plans for future insurrection, of stopping them, and of bringing harsh indictments against the more criminal of their cohort who are planning to break the law.

There is a danger, which Democrat Senator Whitehouse pointed out: The FBI has a place where “things go to die.” He meant, of course, that despite calls for the FBI to jack up its investigation of domestic terrorism, it’s quite possible that the proposal will end up in some in-box on some bureaucrat’s desk, never to be acted upon. Meanwhile, the Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers and other rightwing madmen are acting upon their mad desires even as I write these words. Senate Democrats are going to have to keep pressing, and President Biden needs to show some guts in spearheading these investigations, even though it may piss of the more radical elements within the Democratic Party.

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