Lawmakers peppered Wray with questions about what his agents were doing in the wake of the Oct. 7 multipronged attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians and military outposts, and the subsequent Israeli military strikes in Gaza. He said the FBI has ramped up efforts to share intelligence with local law enforcement.
“We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate years ago,” Wray said, noting that in recent weeks, foreign terrorist groups have called for attacks against Americans and the West.
A key area of concern is so-called lone wolf suspects who are not part of any organization but may be inspired to lash out in reaction to the conflict. Wray added that the FBI has multiple active investigations into individuals associated with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and others.
“We have kept our sights on Hamas,” Wray said.
Historically, hate crimes have tended to be underreported, and Wray said some of the increase in threats logged in recent weeks is due to more people contacting authorities when they see or hear something alarming: “The American people are reporting more tips to us.”
On Monday, Justice Department officials announced that a Nevada man had been arrested for making threats to a U.S. senator. Authorities allege that John Anthony Miller, 43, left profanity-laced voice mails railing against Israeli actions in the Middle East and threatening the lawmaker. Court papers did not identify the target of those threats, but it was Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), according to a staffer.
Rosen, who is Jewish, questioned Wray at Tuesday’s hearing but did not specifically mention the case in which she was the alleged victim.
“In part, as you know all too well, the Jewish community is targeted by extremists across the spectrum,” Wray told her. “This is a threat that is reaching in some ways sort of historic levels.”
The director noted that one particularly disturbing element of the threats made against Jewish people is that many types of extremists, from the far left to the far right, exhibit strains of antisemitism. While Jewish people make up about 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, threats to Jewish people account for roughly 60 percent of religion-based hate crimes.
In an interview with The Washington Post last week, the FBI’s assistant director of partner engagement, Robert J. Contee III, said the agency is intensifying its information-sharing “and making sure that things don’t slip through the cracks.” On Friday, Contee and other top FBI officials spoke by phone with more than 2,400 local police department heads — including leaders of university police forces — to urge them to take each reported threat seriously.
“This is really an exercise in making sure that, if there are dots out there, that we are able to draw the line between those two dots by convening something where our partners have a chance to hear about the landscape,” he said in the interview. “It is front and center on the minds of folks to just ensure the safety of communities all across America.”
When Mayorkas testified at Tuesday’s hearing, Republican senators focused many of their questions on illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border, asking whether terrorist groups could seek to infiltrate the country by sneaking across the southern border.
Mayorkas said border crossers who pose a national security threat are the Department of Homeland Security’s highest priority and the department typically detains those individuals and seeks to deport them. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said in an emailed statement during the hearing that they have “seen no indication of Hamas-directed foreign fighters seeking to make entry into the United States.”
The most pointed exchange of the hearing occurred when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) questioned Mayorkas over the employment status of Nejwa Ali, a DHS asylum officer who was placed on administrative leave after posting messages on social media that celebrated the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 and denigrated Israel.
Hawley displayed poster-sized images of Ali’s posts, including one showing masked, armed militants parachuting over Jerusalem with the phrase “Free Palestine.”
“What have you done about this?” Hawley asked. “This person works for the Department of Homeland Security. Have you fired her?”
Mayorkas said Ali was hired during the Trump administration, in 2019, and has been placed on leave pending an investigation into her social media posts. Asylum officers evaluate the claims of migrants seeking humanitarian protection in the United States. When Hawley asked whether Ali handled any applications from Israelis, Mayorkas said he could not discuss the investigation or provide additional details on an “ongoing personnel matter.”
Growing angrier and shouting, Hawley continued to demand an answer for why Ali had not been fired, then called Mayorkas’s responses “despicable” and “atrocious.” That prompted the DHS secretary, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Cuba, to address the senator’s attacks in deeply personal terms.
“Senator Hawley takes an adversarial approach to me. … Perhaps he does not know I am the child of a Holocaust survivor,” Mayorkas said. “Perhaps he does not know that my mother lost almost all her family at the hands of the Nazis.”
“I find it to be disrespectful of me and my heritage,” he continued. “And I do not expect an apology.”
Hawley also pressed Mayorkas to say whether foreign students who make statements endorsing genocide and the elimination of Israel should have their visas revoked. Mayorkas said his office had received a similar question in writing from Hawley and was reviewing the issue. “It requires a legal interpretation,” Mayorkas said. “I am not in a position to provide that legal interpretation.”