By Devlin Barrett / The Washington Post
The FBI saw a major increase in tips in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio — suggesting public awareness and concern about domestic terrorism spiked in the wake of those incidents.
In the first week following those attacks on Aug. 3 and 4, the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center received more than 38,000 tips from the public, according to officials. In an average week in 2019, the NTOC receives about 22,000 such tips, although the number fluctuates week to week.
This month, local police and the FBI made a number of arrests of people in unrelated cases whose statements or stockpiles of weapons concerned authorities that those individuals might be planning attacks. Those arrests, in turn, prompted questions about whether the government had decided to get more aggressive in pursuing potential domestic terror suspects in the wake of El Paso and Dayton.
The tip data, however, suggests that the public has become more engaged, leading in turn to more law enforcement scrutiny.
“Such increases are often observed after major incidents,” the FBI said in a statement.”As always, the FBI encourages the public to remain vigilant and report any and all suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately.”
The FBI has three primary channels for receiving such tips — their toll free number, 1-800-Call-FBI, www.tips.fbi.gov, and calls to their local field offices.
The type and quality of the tips the FBI receives vary widely, and officials could not gauge how much of the increase are people providing useful information, or how many tips relate to possible terrorism or attacks.
The El Paso and Dayton attacks, which killed 31 people, have intensified the political debates surrounding mass shootings on contentious issues like gun control, white extremist violence, and mental health treatment.
Local police also often handle such tips on their own, so the FBI’s tip data doesn’t reflect information received by city, county, and state officials.
In one recent case, the ex-girlfriend of Tristan S. Wix called local police in Florida about his alleged threats of committing a mass shooting.
The Daytona Beach resident was arrested after he allegedly told his girlfriend he wanted to reach “a good 100 kills”and that he had already selected an ideal target where he could “open fire on a large crowd of people from over three miles away.”
Even before the El Paso and Dayton attacks, lawmakers had been pressing FBI leaders to get more aggressive in pursuing domestic terrorism cases.
FBI officials testifying to Congress in recent months have said they were conducting about 850 domestic terrorism investigations — a decrease from a year earlier, when there were roughly 1,000. That category, however, covers more than just racist violence, but officials say such motivations are a major part of their domestic terrorism caseload.
Other data suggests domestic terrorism may be on the rise. Between October and June, there were roughly 100 arrests of domestic terror suspects. If that pace continues or increases, the 2019 total would surpass the prior year, when there were about 120 such cases. In 2017, there were about 150 domestic terror suspects arrested by either federal or local authorities.
“We, the FBI, don’t investigate ideology, no matter how repugnant,” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified last month. “When it turns to violence, we are all over it.”