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‘Right Wing’ Extremist ‘Hit List:’ Worrisome, or Overblown?

On the heels of the February 5 report, Sovereign Citizen Extremist Ideology Will Drive Violence at Home, During Travel and at Government Facilities, prepared by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) and coordinated with the FBI, federal law enforcement officials are investigating the recent online disclosure of the home addresses of top and former officials of the CIA, FBI, DHS and other agencies.

The online publication of senior US law enforcement and intelligence officials also comes within a month after Islamic State (ISIS) supporters issued an English language hit-list of 100 US military personnel, including photosand addresses of some. The list – which Homeland Security Today reviewed — began to be circulated on jihadi forums and social media on March 21.

Federal law enforcement authorities though have said they believe the latest so-called “hit list” emanated from what they’re describing as an apparent, so far unidentified right-wing extremist group.

DHS said in a statement that, "The safety of our workforce is always a primary concern. DHS has notified employees who were identified in the posting and encouraged them to be vigilant. DHS will adjust security measures, as appropriate, to protect our employees."

The first list

In June 2011, Emmy Award winning journalist William Scott Malone and this reporter first exclusively reported that 11 of the nation’s top military leaders were among 58 past and present military, corporate and civilian officials who’d been identified by members of the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Al Mujahedeen jihadist forum as infidels who should be murdered, according to a jihadist “hit list” that accompanied a June 6 Florida fusion center bulletin obtained by Homeland Security Today.

At the time, the Florida fusion center bulletin coincided with an unusual flurry of similar alerts that were issued by the FBI, Department of Defense (DoD) and DHS, and which came on the heels of then FBI Director Robert Mueller telling the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that one of the early assessments from intelligence seized at Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan is that Al Qaeda is committed to continuing attacks against the United States.

While some officials downplayed the “hit list” as wishful thinking by Al Qaeda-sympathetic jihadists, other counterterrorism authorities went on high alert in response to the jihadi forums’ members’ disturbing talk of assassinating top US military and corporate leaders, especially in light of testimony a few weeks earlier in a federal terrorism trial that revealed a senior Al Qaeda official had ordered the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin be assassinated because his company manufactures UAVs used by the US military in strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Al Qaeda leadership targets in Yemen and in special operations in Somalia.

The new list, and its similarities to jihadi list

The latest apparent right-wing extremist “hit list” is no less disturbing.

The message which preceded the list stated, "DHS-CIA-FBI TRAITORS HOME ADDRESSES," adding, "LET THESE EVIL NWO SATANISTS KNOW THAT THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY FOR THEIR 911 TREASON, AND THEIR FUTURE FEMA CAMP PLANNED PUBLIC CRACKDOWN TREASON ALSO.”

“JESUS IS LORD, AND THE PUBLIC IS IN CHARGE, NOT THESE SATANIC NWO STOOGES."

What’s disturbing about the list is that it contains accurate home addresses of at least some top Intelligence Community, DHS and other federal law enforcement officials – the compilation of which took time, effort and monetary resources to obtain – and which means some form of personal data access, which is what concerns federal investigators.

Similarly, as with the earlier ISIS “hit list,” DoD and counterterrorism intelligence officials who spoke to Homeland Security Today on background because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter, said although no DoD computer systems containing personally identifiable information on military personnel had been breached, some of the information in the “hit list” that was made public on jihadi social media sites by an outfit calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division (ISHD), was most likely obtained by scouring publicly available information on the Internet, as well as purchasing specialized public databases and other online public information services that provide the sorts of details on individuals that is contained on the service members included on the jihadi list list.

In its introduction to the list, ISHD warned, “With the huge amount of data we have from various different servers and databases, we have decided to leak 100 addresses so our brothers residing in America can deal with you.”

An estimated two-thirds of the military personnel on the list are featured on publicly available DoD websites, including the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDs), a single site that contains literally thousands of photos and identifiable information such as names and service affiliations.

Accurate home addresses, though, had to be obtained through other means, intelligence sources said.

“Whoever put this list together spent considerable time, money and resources to compile the personal information” on the service personnel on the list, as one of the sources explained.

The ISHD document did note, however, that, “A few of the addresses may not be current due to some of the database entries being outdated.”

The Pentagon was forced last month to notify about 100 service members who appeared on an the ISIS "hit list," and bases where the personnel are stationed contacted local law enforcement agencies in an effort to increase police patrols in the neighborhoods where they live.

ISIS has urged its followers and sympathizers in the US to kill American service members on the list, some of whom were identified with names, photos and addresses.

Pentagon officials said the list appeared to be drawn from public sources — everything from newspaper interviews to Facebook pages that connected them, sometimes incorrectly, with the war against ISIS.

The hit list is much like the hit list Al Qaeda supporters circulated on jihadist social media sites in June 2011 Homeland Security Today first reported. The difference is the current list provides the home addresses of most of the service members on the new list, including top officers in very important command positions.

The DHS/FBI warning about alleged right-wing extremist list

In the joint DHS/FBI “For Official Use Only” intelligence bulletin circulated in early February, the document declared on the first page that most sovereign citizens are nonviolent and that it focuses only on the violent fringe within a fringe—the people the bulletin’s analysts called "sovereign citizen extremists," or SCEs, whom DHS said it “defines … as groups or individuals who facilitate or engage in acts of violence directed at public officials, financial institutions, and government facilities in support of their belief that the legitimacy of US citizenship should be rejected; that almost all forms of established government, authority, and institutions are llegitimate; and that they are immune from federal, state, and local laws.”

However, the joint DHS/FBI intelligence assessment said it described their violence as "sporadic," and did not expect its rate to rise, predicting instead that the violence will stay "at the same sporadic level" in 2015. The analysts who prepared the intelligence assessment said most of the violence consists of "unplanned, reactive" clashes with police officers, and not preplanned attacks.

When sovereigns do plan an attack in advance, the report suggested that this tends to be "in directresponse to an ongoing personal grievance, such as an arrest or court order." It argued that sovereign citizens are unlikely to pick a symbolic target—like, say, the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City that was bombed—and that in this way they are distinct from the killers who attacked  two randomly selected cops in Las Vegas last year or the three Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at the Los Angeles International airport the year before.

While some police assessments of the movement may give officers the impression that anyone asserting their rights or videotaping an encounter might be a sovereign citizen, or SCE as the bulletin labels them, the joint DHS/FBI report draws its distinctions very carefully.

The report also included an interactive map of 24 cases from 2010 to 2014 in which sovereign citizens planned, threatened or actively engaged in anti-government violence.

Reason magazine said the DHS  report on sovereign citizen extremists was reported by CNN in a story that wondered out loud if "right-wing sovereign citizen extremists" were a "bigger threat than ISIS,” The network did not share the report, but Reason writer Jesse Walker discovered that the words ISIS or right-wing aren’t anywhere to be found in the actual report on SCEs.

Walker detailed the 24 incidents that the DHS/FBI intelligence bulletin report cited as examples of US-based extremists from 2010-2014, and concluded that, "In short, the DHS report presents sovereign-citizen violence as a fairly rare risk that officers should nonetheless be prepared for should it arise.” The DHS/FBI assessment further stated that, “It does not claim that the threat to police is growing, it does not conflate the sovereigns with other anti-government groups, it makes no broad claims about terror on the right (the word ‘right-wing’ appears nowhere in the document), and it does not compare the sovereigns to ISIS or to any other foreign terrorists."

Hate group monitor’s take vs DHS/FBI analysis

Nevertheless, Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that, “We’ve just released our annual count of hate groups, and the good news is that the number has dropped by 17 percent.”

“But,” he noted, “this decrease is deceptive. The reality is that hatemongers are migrating from organized groups to the anonymity of the Internet, places like Stormfront, the Web’s largest hate forum. Its users have more than doubled since President Obama was elected.”

“Even more troubling,” he stated in a fundraising letter, “is the fact that domestic terrorism and racist violence from the radical right continues at a high level.”

Cohen said, “We found that the vast majority of these terrorist plots are hatched by ‘lone wolves’ or pairs of extremists who don’t belong to any organization. Often, their racist rage is fueled by websites like Stormfront.”

“Our new report shows that over the last six years, a domestic terrorist incident has occurred, on average, every 34 days,” he stated, adding that, “These leaderless attacks – the hardest for law enforcement to prevent – have claimed 63 lives. They include longtime neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller’s murder of three people during an anti-Semitic rampage in Kansas.”

In rather sharp contrast to what SPLC declared, though, the DHS/FBI bulletin actually stated  its “key judgments” are that, DHS’s “I&A assesses that SCE violence during 2015 will occur most frequently during routine law encounters at a suspect’s home, during enforcement stops and at government offices.”

In addition, DHS’s “I&A assesses that SCE violence over the next year will remain at the same sporadic level, consisting primarily of unplanned, reactive violence targeting law enforcement officers during active enforcement efforts.”

While the intelligence bulletin noted that, “Most sovereign citizens are non-violent …I&A assesses that most SCE violence will continue to occur most frequently at SCE homes, during routine traffic stops, or at government offices due to their perception that their individual rights are being violated.”

The DHS/FBI assessment further noted that, “SCE violence took place in … three circumstances in 19 of the 24 instances of SCE violence since 2010. SCEs perceive that law enforcement efforts and judicial actions infringe upon key personal rights and individual sovereignty—such as the right to travel—most strongly during these circumstances. SCEs believe they personally can ignore laws and act according to their own sovereign citizen ideology. Consequently, when SCEs perceive government representatives directly infringing on their rights and freedoms in an irrevocable way—such as police serving a warrant or a judge ruling against legal filings intended to tie up court proceedings—SCEs resort to violence.”

The joint DHS/FBI bulletin said “I&A assesses that most SCE violence will continue to occur most frequently at SCE homes, during routine traffic stops, or at government offices due to their perception that their individual rights are being violated.”

The bulletin noted that, “SCE violence took place in … three circumstances in 19 of the 24 instances of SCE violence since 2010. SCEs perceive that law enforcement efforts and judicial actions infringe upon key personal rights and individual sovereignty—such as the right to travel—most strongly during these circumstances. SCEs believe they personally can ignore laws and act according to their own sovereign citizen ideology.  Consequently, when SCEs perceive government representatives directly infringing on their rights and freedoms in an irrevocable way—such as police serving a warrant or a judge ruling against legal filings intended to tie up court proceedings—SCEs resort to violence.”

Continuing, the bulletin said, “I&A assesses that SCE tactics differ from most violent extremists in that their attacks are reactive and personal, rather than symbolic. Other domestic terrorists typically attack symbolic targets to oppose laws and policies they disagree with rather than certain individuals.”

“By contrast,” the bulletin continued, “even when SCEs plot their violence over time or threaten attacks, it is often in direct response to an ongoing personal grievance, such as an arrest or court order. In almost all of the 24 incidents we reviewed, the targets were the specific individuals who the SCE perceive violated their rights, rather than public symbols or anonymous representatives of the government. While other domestic terrorists may be motivated by personal grievances as well as ideology, rarely do they target a specific individual.”

The latest DHS/FBI intelligence bulletin “assesses law enforcement officers will remain the primary target of SCE violence over the next year due to their role in physically enforcing laws and regulations. While judges and other government officials often earn SCE ire, SCEs typically—though not always—respond to judicial decrees and regulatory actions by disputing them on paper through extensive legal claims before engaging in violent plots, and rarely attack symbolic targets. By contrast, law enforcement actions often involve direct personal (and physical) confrontations that SCEs perceive as provoking an immediate physical response for “self-defense.”

The DHS/FBI bulletin said, “Law enforcement officers were targeted in 83 percent (20 of 24) of violent sovereign citizen incidents between 2010 and 2014, according to a review of DHS, law enforcement and open source data.”

“Barring any significant change in SCE ideology,” the DHS/FBI bulletin said, “a major event, or a charismatic leader that advocates for more assertive violence in support of SCEs’ perceived rights, I&A assesses the sporadic pattern and level of violence at homes, traffic stops and government sites will continue through 2015. However, each individual is unique and may have different interpretations of SCE ideology, especially since there is no agreed-upon dogma or national leader. Some domestic terrorists may combine elements of SCE ideologies with other, more aggressive violent antigovernment perspectives—such as militia extremism.”

“Consequently,” the bulletin cautioned, “such individuals likely pose a greater threat of proactive violence than other SCEs.”

Meanwhile, according to SPLC’s latest annual count of hate groups “is that the number has dropped by 17 percent.”

“But,” the group said, “this decrease is deceptive. The reality is that hatemongers are migrating from organized groups to the anonymity of the Internet, places like Stormfront, the web’s largest hate forum” whose “users have more than doubled since President Obama was elected.”

“Even more troubling is the fact that domestic terrorism and racist violence from the radical right continues at a high level,’ SPLC said, adding, “We found that the vast majority of these terrorist plots are hatched by ‘lone wolves’ or pairs of extremists who don’t belong to any organization. Often, their racist rage is fueled by websites like Stormfront.”

SPLC said its “new report shows that over the last six years, a domestic terrorist incident has occurred, on average, every 34 days.”
     
   

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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