Changes in policies related to border enforcement that could be used to “justify violence” against minority communities or border enforcement, potential changes in abortion laws, and looming midterm elections have increased the potential for attacks perpetrated by domestic extremists, according to a new National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin released this morning.
The last NTAS bulletin was set to expire at 9 a.m. EST today. Like that bulletin, the newest version assesses that the country “remains in a heightened threat environment” but notes that “several recent attacks have highlighted the dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment.”
“In the coming months, we expect the threat environment to become more dynamic as several high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets,” the bulletin states. “These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents. Threat actors have recently mobilized to violence due to factors such as personal grievances, reactions to current events, and adherence to violent extremist ideologies, including racially or ethnically motivated or anti-government/anti-authority violent extremism. Foreign adversaries — including terrorist organizations and nation state adversaries — also remain intent on exploiting the threat environment to promote or inspire violence, sow discord, or undermine U.S. democratic institutions.”
“We continue to assess that the primary threat of mass casualty violence in the United States stems from lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances.”
The bulletin singles out the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, the May 15 attack on Taiwanese congregants at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., and the April 12 mass shooting in a New York City Subway car as examples of how lone actors “demonstrated the dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment facing the United States.”
“Individuals in online forums that routinely promulgate domestic violent extremist and conspiracy theory-related content have praised the May 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and encouraged copycat attacks,” the bulletin notes. “Others have seized on the event to attempt to spread disinformation and incite grievances, including claims it was a government-staged event meant to advance gun control measures.”
The alleged shooter in Buffalo “claimed he was motivated by racist, anti-Black, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, often referred to as the ‘great replacement’ or ‘white genocide,'” the bulletin continues. “These theories claim that minorities, multiculturalists, and a ruling elite are deliberately threatening the existence of the white race. The alleged 2019 attacker at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, cited similar grievances and inspiration for the attack, and both the Buffalo and El Paso attackers indicated they were inspired by the 2019 attacker of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.”
The suspect in the Laguna Woods shooting “also placed Molotov cocktail-like devices around the church and secured the doors with chains and super glue,” and after the NYC subway shooting “a number of pro-al-Qa‘ida and ISIS users celebrated the attack.”
As in recent iterations of the NTAS bulletin, disinformation and the “continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events” is noted as a key factor that “could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence.”
“Some domestic violent extremists have expressed grievances related to their perception that the U.S. government is unwilling or unable to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and have called for violence to stem the flow of undocumented migrants to the United States,” the bulletin states. “We assess that there is increased risk of domestic violent extremists using changes in border security-related policies and/or enforcement mechanisms to justify violence against individuals, such as minorities and law enforcement officials involved in the enforcement of border security.”
“Given a high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case about abortion rights, individuals who advocate both for and against abortion have, on public forums, encouraged violence, including against government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities, as well as those with opposing ideologies,” NTAS continued. “As the United States enters mid-term election season this year, we assess that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists directed at democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events, and election workers will likely increase.”
The last bulletin, issued in February, reiterated assessments previously and frequently expressed by federal law enforcement and homeland security officials that the “primary terrorism-related threat to the United States continues to stem from lone offenders or small cells of individuals who are motivated by a range of foreign and/or domestic grievances often cultivated through the consumption of certain online content,” and stresses that “the convergence of violent extremist ideologies, false or misleading narratives, and conspiracy theories have and will continue to contribute to a heightened threat of violence in the United States.”
Disinformation and misinformation propagated and disseminated by both domestic and foreign actors were listed as the first key factors influencing the heightened threat environment, with grievances stoked by unsubstantiated widespread election fraud conspiracy theories and COVID-19 mis/disinformation noted as inspiring violent extremist attacks during 2021.
Also noted were a rash of bomb threats against historically black colleges and universities, threats to Jewish facilities and churches, and the Jan. 15 attack on the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, in which the British gunman ranted about the “f***ing Jews” in the last phone call he made to his family during the hostage standoff.
The new bulletin notes that “ISIS and al-Qa’ida supporters released statements celebrating the hostage taker for bringing attention to the issue of a federally convicted female al-Qa’ida supporter and suggested the event could serve as inspiration for future attackers.”
“Foreign terrorist organizations will likely continue to use online platforms to attempt to inspire U.S.-based individuals to engage in violent activity,” the bulletin assesses, noting an April audio message from ISIS calling on supporters “to carry out knife and vehicle ramming attacks in the United States and Europe,” and a pro-al-Qaeda magazine released in April that “encouraged supporters to travel to Ukraine to acquire training and weapons to use in attacks against the West.”
“Chinese, Iranian, Russian, and other foreign malign influence actors have sought to contribute to U.S. internal discord and weaken its focus and position internationally. These actors have amplified narratives that radicalized individuals have cited to justify violence, including conspiracy theories and false or misleading narratives promoting U.S. societal division. In recent months, Russia and other actors have also amplified conspiracy theories alleging U.S. responsibility for the Russia-Ukraine crisis and claiming U.S. support for bio-weapons labs abroad. Some of these actors have used these conspiracy theories to justify calls for violence against U.S. officials and institutions,” the bulletin continues. “As the U.S. 2022 mid-term elections approach, malign foreign actors could bolster their messaging to sow discord and influence U.S. audiences in keeping with practices during previous election cycles.”
The current bulletin is set to expire on Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. EST. This is the sixth NTAS bulletin issued by DHS since January 2021. The January bulletin focused on domestic extremists and stated that “extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”