FBI Director Wray tells CNN there are ‘way, way too many people’ acting violently on political grievances

“There are way, way too many people in today’s world who are taking their very passionately held views and manifesting them through violence,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told CNN.

“And our system, as you know, under the First Amendment, doesn’t matter what you’re upset about, who you’re upset with, or what side of an issue you’re on. There’s a right way under our Bill of Rights to express yourself, and violence, threats of violence, destruction of property — those kinds of things are not it.”

The FBI director traveled to London this week to meet with Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, to highlight the two agencies’ close coordination on everything from counterterrorism to cyber attacks, and Russian and Chinese espionage. The two leaders sat for a wide-ranging interview in which they discussed Abe’s assassination and the rising threat of extremist violence.

“We have to guard against the potential risks of terrorist groups targeting prominent individuals, and we also have to defend against non-ideological threats where people are fixated or there are other forms of mental health issues,” McCallum said in a rare interview, adding that it is the job of security officials to “get after them all to the maximum extent that we can, and that is not easy, especially in cases where there are very few dots to join.”

Wray’s comments come after Abe’s assassination and the thwarted plot to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last month. He also expressed concerns about the exponential rise in home-grown extremism in the US and emphasized the need for local law enforcement to patrol their own communities for potential lone actors who have access to guns. The Highland Park, Illinois, July 4 parade shooting suspect obtained guns after passing federal background checks.

The FBI director also addressed the January 6, 2021, US Capitol attack, saying it reflects a “broader phenomenon” of people becoming violent over ideological, social or political grievances.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re upset about an election, upset about a trial upset about the criminal justice system, upset about any issue, there’s a right way to express yourself under the First Amendment, and violence or destruction of federal property or in the case of January 6, those things, plus interference with a sacred part of our constitutional process, Then we’re going to have to act,” Wray said. “That’s the rule of law. That’s what the rule of law is all about.”

When asked about where that could lead in the Justice Department’s criminal investigation, Wray said: “We’re going to follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter who likes it.”

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Wray compared the current rising threat from domestic extremists, motivated by racial or anti-government views, to earlier threats from people radicalized by foreign terrorist groups.

“The most lethal terrorist attacks in the homeland over the last several years have largely been from domestic terrorists and that covers a wide range of threats,” he said.

“We tried to tackle the threat through similar vehicles that we’ve attacked, homegrown jihadist-inspired extremism, our joint terrorism task forces that are all over in the United States, working with state local charges when those are available and trying to make sure that we’re reaching out to the community for tips and leads,” Wray said. “Because in this space — the domestic violent extremism space — much like the jihadist-inspired extremism, you’re talking about largely lone actors who are coming up with attack plans that are fairly crude and simple, but don’t leave a lot of footprints or dots to connect.”

The FBI has dedicated resources from offices around the country to the largest investigation in Justice Department history, helping to bring charges against more than 800 people involved in the US Capitol riot. And CNN has reported that the probe has recently expanded to include people who didn’t show up at the Capitol to riot but help propel the violence by pushing lies about vote fraud and seeking to overturn the election.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to better reflect the roles of the FBI and MI5.

This story has also been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.

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