FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that white supremacy presents a “persistent” and “pervasive” threat to the United States, breaking from President Donald Trump, who has sidestepped questions of whether white nationalists present a growing problem.
“The danger. I think, of white supremacists, violent extremism or another kind of extremism is of course significant,” Wray said at a House hearing. “We assess that it is a persistent, pervasive threat. We tackle it both through our joint terrorism task forces on the domestic terrorism side as well as through our civil rights program on the civil side through hate crime enforcement.”
Wray also spoke out against hate crimes and was asked by Democrats what the FBI was doing to crack down on hate crimes, which they say have ticked up during Trump’s presidency.
“We are determined not to tolerate hate-filled violence in our communities, so we’re going to aggressively investigate those cases,” Wray said, adding that there has been an increase in “the reporting of hate crimes,” but that this doesn’t automatically mean more hate crimes were happening. FBI efforts to encourage the public to report hate crimes could be yielding benefits, he said.
These comments aren’t exactly in line with what Trump has said about the topic of white nationalism. Trump, who appointed Wray in 2017, has downplayed the danger of white nationalism and even praised some of the Nazi sympathizers who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After the New Zealand mosque massacre last month, where a right-wing extremist killed 50 Muslim worshippers, Trump said he didn’t consider white nationalism to be a rising global threat.
“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” Trump said.
Muslim advocacy groups in the US said after the tragedy that they would hold Trump responsible for any increase in Islamophobic attacks. An FBI assessment released last year found that there was a 17% spike in reports of hate crime incidents in 2017, compared to 2016.
Trump and his allies have pushed back on accusations that he is soft on white nationalism and that his rhetoric fuels a dangerous climate for minorities. After the New Zealand attacks, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “the President is not a white supremacist.”
CNN’s Em Steck contributed to this report.