The Department of Homeland Security released a new terrorism bulletin on Friday, warning that far-right extremists are likely to consider attacking protests against police brutality.
The bulletin, issued through the National Terrorism Advisory System, says that domestic violent extremists and white supremacists have been looking for “civil disorder” as an opportunity to commit violent acts “in furtherance of ideological objectives.”
That includes targeting protests about “racial justice grievances and police use of force concerns, potentially targeting protestors perceived to be ideological opponents,” the bulletin reads.
This is the second threat bulletin DHS has issued in 2021 regarding the threat from far-right extremists.
In January, after the Capitol insurrection, DHS issued a warning saying that the Jan. 6 attack had “emboldened” white supremacist extremists and that the threat of violent attacks would likely remain high throughout the year. That’s led to a sprawling DOJ investigation into the matter, as FBI agents continue to pore over video from the attack to try to identify rioters.
Since then, the Biden administration has said that it will make combatting domestic violent extremism a priority. That has thus far come in the form of DHS initiatives aimed at increasing prevention and detection of those who might be willing to commit acts of political violence.
The FBI also released a report on Friday about the threat from domestic violent extremists, saying that the bureau arrested 846 people for domestic terrorism-related crimes between 2015 and 2019.
The bureau also said that, over the same time period, it had produced more than 4,000 domestic terrorism-related intelligence products.
The DHS bulletin centers the role of the internet in motivating domestic terrorists, noting that random people online can call for violence against politicians and “perceived ideologically-opposed individuals” and find an audience receptive to those demands.
That becomes more difficult when combined with the spread of encrypted messaging apps, and with the fact that many potential terrorists are either acting alone or in very small groups of people.
“The use of encrypted messaging by lone offenders and small violent extremist cells may obscure operational indicators that provide specific warning of a pending act of violence,” the report reads.
DHS also warned about the ongoing potential for foreign countries to pour gasoline on pre-existing domestic flare-ups. The bulletin singles out anti-Asian hate crimes as one such issue, saying that foreign nations had been “amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also plays a big role in the bulletin. DHS says that the country opening up may give extremists more targets, and also states that media outlets connected to the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian governments had been boosting conspiracy theories about COVID vaccines.