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FBI chief says U.S. ‘Antifa’ demonstrators are targets of multiple probes

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(Reuters) – The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation told Congress on Thursday that anarchist and extremist “Antifa” protesters who engaged in the recent violent protests are the target of serious FBI investigations.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on ‘Threats to the Homeland’, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. September 24, 2020. Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS

During a Republican-led Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Christopher Wray said the Bureau saw “organized tactical activity at the local and regional levels.”

“We’ve seen the Antifa membership coalesce and work together in what I would describe as small groups and nodes,” he said. Wray added that the bureau was conducting multiple investigations “into certain anarchist violent extremists, some of whom operate through these nodes.”

Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is an amorphous movement “that believes in active and aggressive opposition to far-right movements,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremists.

Wray pointed out that while there are active investigations into Antifa and other extremist groups, these organizations are numerically much smaller. He said peaceful protesters, as well as criminal opportunists, who have engaged in low-level vandalism and looting outnumber organized extremist groups.

In testimony before a Democratic-led House Homeland Security hearing last week, Wray told lawmakers that the biggest “chunk” of FBI investigations involved white supremacist groups.

Acting DHS Assistant Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli, who earlier this summer had strongly emphasized the role of anarchists in urban protests, acknowledged during Thursday’s hearing that there was evidence that white supremacists had committed the deadliest incidents in recent years.

He said the DHS has recognized for some time that “white supremacists act like terrorists, more people get killed. It is higher lethality. During Thursday’s hearing, Wray made only brief reference to the involvement of “militia types” in the recent unrest.

President Donald Trump and his allies have sought here to blame what they call left-wing extremists for violence and looting during US protests against police brutality, while local authorities and watchdog groups have often pointed to the threat posed by right-wing movements.

Wray said the FBI has instructed the Joint Terrorism Task Forces to partner with local law enforcement agencies “to ensure they focus on domestic terrorism” in addition to the international terrorism investigations that they have historically concentrated.

He said the FBI recently “elevated racially motivated violent extremism” to an investigative priority equal to its focus on Islamic State and other foreign terrorist threats.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch; edited by Timothy Gardner

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