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By Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch
(Reuters) - The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation told Congress on Thursday that anarchist and extremist "Antifa" demonstrators who engaged in recent violent protests are targets of serious FBI investigations.
At a hearing of the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security committee, Christopher Wray said that the Bureau had seen "organized tactical activity at both the local and regional level."
"We have seen Antifa adherence coalescing and working together in what I would describe as small groups and nodes," he said. Wray added that the bureau is conducting multiple investigations "into some anarchist violent extremists, some of whom operate through these nodes."
Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is an amorphous movement "who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements," according https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/who-are-antifa to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremists.
Wray stressed that while there are active probes into Antifa and other extremist groups, these organizations numerically are much smaller in number. He said that peaceful protesters, as well as criminal opportunists, who engaged in low-level vandalism and looting outnumber organized extremist groups.
In testimony before a Democratic-led House Homeland Security hearing last week, Wray told lawmakers that the largest "chunk" of the FBI's investigations involve white supremacist groups.
Acting DHS deputy secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli, who earlier this summer had strongly emphasized the role of anarchists in urban protests, at Thursday's hearing acknowledged there was evidence that white supremacists carried out the most lethal incidents in recent years.
He said that DHS has acknowledge for some time that "white supremacists act as terrorists, more people are killed. That is a higher lethality." During Thursday's hearing, Wray only briefly referred to the involvement of "militia types" in recent disorders.
President Donald Trump and his allies have sought https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-protests-extremist/explainer-who-are-antifa-the-boogaloo-movement-and-others-blamed-in-u-s-protest-violence-idUSKBN23C2R1 to blame what they calls left-wing extremists for violence and looting at U.S. protests over police brutality, while local authorities and watchdog groups have often pointed to the threat posed by right-wing movements.
Wray said that the FBI had asked the Joint Terrorism Task Forces it operates in partnership with local police agencies "to make sure they are focusing on domestic terrorism" in addition to the international terrorism probes they historically focused on.
He said the FBI recently had "elevated racially-motivated violent extremism" to an investigative priority equal to its focus on Islamic State and other foreign terrorist threats.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Timothy Gardner)