SALT LAKE CITY — The FBI in Salt Lake City says it hasn't seen a uptick in the kind of racially charged activity that precipitated deadly violence in Virginia earlier this month.
"Many times, I think, in the news cycle one incident can be extrapolated to say we're seeing this huge rise," Eric Barnhart, FBI special agent in charge, said Tuesday during a roundtable discussion with local media. He said he's not aware of any extremist rallies or increased rhetoric on social media in Utah.
Barnhart said he'll have a better picture when the latest FBI crime statistics come out later this year.
The FBI reported 47 hate crimes in Utah — 29 motivated by race or ethnicity, 11 by religion and seven by sexual orientation — in 2015, the latest year for which numbers are available.
There's a difference between hate crimes and hate incidents, Barnhart said. Certain speech might be reprehensible, he said, but protected under the First Amendment. The FBI has strict definitions for an action to rise to the level of a hate crime.
"People can dislike the government. They can say reprehensible things about somebody of a different race or ethnicity. That doesn't necessarily make it a crime," he said.
"We're not the thought police," Barnhart said. "It's when somebody takes that more overt action, threat of violence, a credible threat of force, and every situation is different."
Still, Barnhart said the FBI wants to know about what residents might hear or see in the community so agents can check it out. Often, he said, they find out that someone popped off because they were having a bad day.
"We always want to know about it. We don't want the public to write an innocent narrative," he said.
Rooting out domestic terrorism continues to be a top FBI priority nationally and locally. Home-grown violent extremists and people who self-radicalize pose a constant worry, Barnhart said.
Though Islamic State lost on the battlefield, its members returned to the United States and Europe, he said.
"Those are folks that are hardcore in their views and just because they lost in one battlefield, it's not, ‘Hey, time to go get a legitimate job and think about going back to school,’" Barnhart said.
In 2013, an Uzbek national who authorities said had ties to an Islamic terror group, faced federal charges in Utah and Idaho for allegedly training others how to make bombs and targeting military bases or other venues with a weapon of mass destruction.
Fazliddin Kurbanov, who lived in Boise, supplied money, software and training to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. government identifies as a foreign terrorist group that aimed to overthrow the Uzbek regime and establish an Islamic state. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence for supporting a foreign terrorist organization and having an unregistered destructive device.