FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that the FBI has not seen any evidence indicating that the rioters who took part in the January 6 US Capitol attack were “fake Trump protesters,” knocking down a baseless claim that has been pushed by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in recent weeks as he has sought to downplay the violence committed by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Testifying publicly for the first time since pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol nearly two months ago, Wray was pressed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin on whether the FBI has seen any evidence that individuals involved in the January 6 attack were posing as Trump supporters — a claim the Illinois Democrat called “the next big lie.”
“We have not seen evidence of that, at this stage, certainly,” Wray responded when Durbin asked if he had seen any evidence the riot was organized by “fake Trump protesters.”
Wray also resoundingly said Antifa and other left-wing groups were not part of the violence on January 6 — even as several Republicans sought to use Tuesday’s hearing as an opportunity to highlight the threat posed by those groups rather than focus on those who were involved in the Capitol attack.
“We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection to the 6th,” Wray told the Senate committee Tuesday.
More than 260 defendants — many of them professing allegiance to Trump, disgust for Congress, and supportive of revolution — have been charged in federal court related to their actions in and around the US Capitol siege on January 6.
Previously, nearly a dozen Trump supporters charged in connection with the US Capitol insurrection have said that Antifa and other left-wing groups weren’t involved in the attack, further debunking the conspiracy among Trump supporters.
Wray’s team of federal investigators is currently chasing thousands of leads in twin efforts to prosecute people involved in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and to try to prevent feared follow-up attacks in Washington and around the country.
While federal law enforcement officials have sought to reassure the American public in the months since the riot that they are up to the task on both fronts, their public remarks also lay bare the enormity of the challenge they face in tracking potential threats to not only the nation’s capital, but across the country.
Law enforcement officials have indicated to CNN that authorities missed key signs ahead of the siege, which left five dead and the Capitol ransacked, and the FBI’s preparations leading up to the day of the attack have come under scrutiny.
“There are threats to America today that we need to put in as a priority,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin told reporters Monday. “I think domestic terrorism, religious and racial based hate groups have become a major threat in America. I want to know if our intelligence operations have taken this into consideration in establishing their priorities.”
The Illinois Democrat said other January 6-related questions he thinks are important to get answered include: “What did he know? And when did he know it? And who did he tell? Those are questions that have been raised in other hearings. But he is the man of the hour. As head of the FBI, I think he has a special position, place, to answer the question.”
More than 267 individuals are facing federal charges in connection with the January 6 riot and the Justice Department continues to announce new arrests and charges.
Charging documents continue to reveal new information about the extremists who took part in the US Capitol attack, including members of right-wing militant groups who prosecutors have charged with conspiracy-related crimes.
Yet lawmakers have indicated they remain less clear on the threat these types of individuals continue to pose and have unsuccessfully pressed law enforcement officials to justify the heightened security posture on Capitol Hill.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told CNN last month that officials are not currently tracking any “credible or specific threats,” but continue to constantly monitor online chatter about potential violence in Washington, DC, and against members of Congress.
Wray is expected to be pressed for details about these threats, particularly after acting US Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman warned last week that militia groups involved in the January 6 insurrection want to “blow up the Capitol” and “kill as many members as possible” when President Joe Biden addresses Congress.