FBI Director Chris Wray announced on Sept. 27 the bureau has just as many federal investigations into domestic terrorism as it does in relation to international threats.
Wray estimated the bureau has "about 1,000" open investigations into domestic groups in a meeting with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sparking a debate on the FBI's investigations into white nationalist groups. By comparison, there are the same number of investigations into foreign cases, though exact numbers of cases and the numbers of investigators assigned to each one was not specified.
The FBI has been criticized in the past for focusing on international, Islamic violence more than neo-Nazi violence at home. The white nationalist movement has received more media attention since August 2017, when a large white nationalist protest over the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in the death of a counter-protester.
Domestic attacks by white supremacists are estimated to be two times more common than attacks by international or ISIS-affiliated groups, The Hill reports.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said Congress has held multiple meetings on ISIS but "zero hearings on the threat of domestic terrorists and the threat they pose and our response to it."
Wray noted that there have been 176 arrests related to domestic terrorism made in 2017. He said the FBI did not consider one threat to be more pressing than the other.
"We take both of them very, very seriously," he said. "Our focus is on violence and threats of violence against the people of this country. That’s our concern -- it’s not ideology."
Wray also brought up concerns relating to the creation of an official, federal charge for domestic terrorism.
The Washington Examiner reports that there have been calls to create a domestic terrorist statute since the Charlottesville protest. Under current law, domestic terrorism is defined as violent crimes that are "dangerous to human life," "intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population," "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" or "affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping."
Because a federal "domestic terrorism" charge does not exist, people the FBI catches are usually charged with their individual crimes -- such as murder or hate crimes -- to avoid labeling all crimes as acts of terrorism. Terrorist charges are typically only given to homegrown terrorists if they have an international connection.
"A lot of the [domestic terrorism] cases we bring, we’re able to charge under gun charges, explosive charges, all manner of other crimes," Wray said. "We also work a lot with state and local law enforcement who can sometimes bring straightforward, easy-to-make cases -- homicide cases, things like that."
In May 2017, the FBI acknowledged white supremacists as a significant threat in a joint intelligence bulletin, The Hill reports.
White supremacists will "likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year," the bulletin read. The FBI also reported in the bulletin that white supremacist groups had committed 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 016, "more than any other domestic extremist movement."