States and cities that have sought federal help have done a better job at keeping racial justice protests peaceful than jurisdictions that have told the feds to butt out, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress Thursday.
Where local officials have been slow to act and rejected cooperation, things have spiraled out of hand, with violent extremists able to hijack peaceful protests, Mr. Wray said.
“Where all the partners have worked together quickly, all on the same page … it’s usually been nipped in the bud,” the director told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Ken Cuccinelli, the No. 2 official at Homeland Security, said those decisions rest with the local officials. Federal officers’ jurisdiction is generally limited to protecting federal interests, unless local officials ask for assistance.
“It isn’t that we want to engage in the battles, it’s that we want to deter them and allow peaceful protests to go on,” he said.
Mr. Wray said he sees three different groups in the racial justice protests. The largest are peaceful protesters, then there are criminal opportunists who use demonstrations as a chance for looting or mayhem, and then there are anti-government extremists who are a serious threat.
He said the FBI is seeing “regional” coordination, and is probing funding, tactics, logistics and supply chains to see what sort of organization is in play.
He said Antifa is a real movement, with some violent actors saying they ascribe to the anti-fascist ideology, but said there are other ideologies at work as well.
“It’s almost like a salad bar of ideologies. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. What they’re really about is the violence,” he said.
The debate over the nature of racial justice protests and violence has raged, spurred in part by President Trump saying it’s left some American cities in chaos.
He’s urged local officials to accept federal help.
Portland, Oregon, perhaps the scene of the most violent clashes in the months since the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a White Minneapolis police officer, has rebuffed federal offers of assistance.
The city saw another night of rioting Wednesday, with demonstrators attacking a police precinct, smashing windows then using slingshots to fire projectiles at the occupied building. They also lobbed fireworks and tossed Molotov cocktails at officers.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has said he did ask Gov. Kate Brown to request National Guard help, but she denied him twice.
She has said she believes state and local authorities are enough to handle the violence, which has occurred almost nightly for more than 100 days.
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