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FBI agents are reluctant to pursue white nationalist extremists because they don't want to target Trump's base, former counter-terror officer says

INSIDER logoINSIDER 8/5/2019 Tom Porter
a group of people standing in a parking lot © MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
  • A former FBI counter-terrorism special agent, Dave Gomez, told the Washington Post that fear of being seen to target President Trump's own supporters is muting the agency's response to white nationalist violence.
  • "There's some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base," Gomez told the publication.
  • The comments follow an attack by a gunman on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday that is being treated as a domestic terror attack by the FBI.
  • Investigators believe that the suspect may have left a racist manifesto on messaging board 8Chan ahead of the attack.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

FBI agents are hesitant to investigate white nationalist extremists because they don't want to pursue investigations against President Trump's own base, a former counterterrorism FBI assistant special agent has told the Washington Post.

"I believe [FBI director] Christopher A. Wray is an honorable man, but I think in many ways the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white supremacist movement like the old FBI would," said former FBI official Dave Gomez. "There's some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base. It's a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor."

He said that Trump's repeated attacks on the FBI and the probe into allegations of Russian interference and collusion likely played a factor as well.

The FBI declined to comment to Business Insider on Gomez's claims, but a law enforcement source told the Post that the comments were not accurate, and the agency distributes resources according to its assessment of the threat posed by domestic terrorism.

a man wearing a suit and tie © Evan Vucci/AP

According to the agency, around 40% of the domestic terror cases it is currently investigating were inspired by racism.

Gomez' comments follow Saturday's mass shooting in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in which 20 people were killed.

Investigators have told media outlets they believe that shortly before the shooting suspect Patrick Crusius posted an anti-migrant screed on messaging board 8Chan, an online hub for white nationalists.

The shooting was followed hours later by another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that investigators do not currently believe was motivated by racist ideology. Police have yet to say what they believe the motive was in that shooting.

Saturday's shooting is the latest in a long series of deadly attacks by white nationalist extremists in the US and abroad, with a gunman shooting dead 51 people in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and livestreaming the attack on social media platforms.

In July, Wray at a Senate hearing said an increasing number of domestic terror incidents were being motivated by white nationalism.

Law enforcement responses to white nationalist violence have long been the focus of fierce bipartisan disputes, with Republicans in 2009 reacting furiously to a Department of Homeland Security report that found a rising threat of white nationalist violence. They accused the agency of a bid to smear conservatives.

President Trump has faced accusations from political opponents of deliberately stoking racist divisions in the US and actively courting the support of white nationalists during his 2016 presidential campaign.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University has linked rising white nationalism to "a coarsening of mainstream politics, where debates on national security and immigration have become rabbit holes for the exploitation of fear and bigotry."

The president last week claimed he is the "least racist person anywhere in the world" and in comment Sunday linked the El Paso attack to a "mental illness problem." In the wake of the New Zealand attack, he said that he didn't see white nationalism as a growing global threat.

Under current laws, while it is a crime to provide support for foreign terror groups like ISIS, there is no equivalent crime for domestic terror organisations.

The FBI is investigating the El Paso attack as a domestic terror incident and possible hate crime. The agency in a statement Sunday warned that Saturday's attack could inspire copycat murders.

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