Jul 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

FBI director: Domestic terrorists increasingly inspired by international attacks

Photo of Ken McCallum and Chris Wray standing at podiums next to each other
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum (left) and FBI Director Christopher Wray at a joint press conference at MI5 headquarters in central London on July 6. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images

The FBI and British domestic security agency MI5 warned Friday that domestic terror cases are increasingly carrying an international component as extremists draw inspiration from neo-Nazism and racist attacks across borders, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: FBI Director Christopher Wray previously testified that the U.S. domestic terrorism caseload has "exploded" in size since spring 2020. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called domestic violent extremism the "single greatest terrorism-related threat" in the U.S.

What they're saying: "Travel and technology have really blurred the lines between foreign and domestic threats," Wray told reporters alongside MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, per the Post. "You have people who may not be conspiring or colluding with each other, but who are in effect inspiring or egging each other on."

  • "You can see that for example with the attack in New Zealand, the attack in Norway, in some sense you see an attack in the U.S. that inspires somebody else to attack somewhere else," he added, referring to the Christchurch gunman who killed 51 people at mosques in 2019 and the Oslo far-right extremist who killed 77 people in 2011.
  • Roughly 20% of Britain's terrorism caseload involves bad actors motivated by racism, neo-Nazism or hateful ideologies, McCallum said. Many are on the younger side.
  • "The neo-Nazi racist groups, there is, if anything, a greater emphasis on juveniles within the caseload, a more obsessive interest in weaponry — in many cases even before there is some kind of attack planned," he noted.
  • "There’s kind of an interest in weaponry for its own sake, so it creates a very difficult cocktail of risk we have to manage with great care," McCallum added.

The big picture: Experts have said an attack by a radicalized individual is much harder for law enforcement and platforms to detect or deter than coordinated mass events.

  • Domestic terrorism has proven difficult for Big Tech companies to police online.
  • The Department of Justice this year opened a new unit to investigate acts of domestic terrorism.
  • A recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, renewed attention on legislation addressing domestic terrorism and guns after a white gunman killed 10 people, most of whom were Black, in what Wray described as a "targeted attack, a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism."
  • The shooter was allegedly inspired by the Christchurch gunman's racist manifesto, per NPR.
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