A warning about continued domestic extremist threats to the D.C. area along with the QAnon-driven conspiracy theory claiming that former President Trump would return to power March 4 prompted the House of Representatives to finish legislative work Wednesday night and call off any Thursday votes.
The Senate, weighing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, was expected to remain in session Thursday.
A Joint Intelligence Bulletin issued Tuesday by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned that, nearly two months after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, “anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, specifically militia violent extremists (MVEs); racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists; and DVEs citing partisan political grievances will likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021.”
FBI and DHS advised law enforcement officials across the country to “remain vigilant in light of the persistent threat posed by DVEs and their unpredictable target selection.”
Possible targets in the National Capitol Region were assessed as “symbols of government, law enforcement, and ideologically opposed individuals,” and extremists are believed to be “emboldened” by the Jan. 6 attack. Nearly 140 officers from the Capitol Police and the D.C. Metropolitan Police departments suffered injuries that day including brain injury, cracked ribs, loss of an eye, and more from being assaulted with flagpoles, bats, bear spray, and more.
However, after the Jan. 6 attack many adherents to various domestic extremist movements took their once-open conversations about rebellion, tactics, and potential targets into more secure online forums, much like ISIS retreated to Telegram after Facebook and Twitter become inhospitable to the terror group’s propaganda and online recruitment and incitement.
The bulletin acknowledges this “increasingly constrained” insight into specific threats because of the shift toward more secure communications as the Justice Department pursued individuals involved the Capitol attack.
“Continued DVE perceptions of election fraud and other conspiracy theories associated with the presidential transition may contribute to DVEs mobilizing to violence with little or no warning,” the bulletin continues.
“Some DVEs motivated by the QAnon conspiracy theory believe that the previous president will be inaugurated on 4 March or will return to power on 20 May with the help of the U.S. military.”
Chatter has included militia extremists discussing a March 4 Capitol attack to “remove Democratic lawmakers.” The bulletin also referenced Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman warning the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee last week that “members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union”; President Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress has not yet been scheduled.
The FBI and DHS said they are most concerned about lone offenders or small cell using simple tactics and weapons that are easy to acquire. Due to the “highly personal nature of radicalization to violence” it can be difficult to nail down indicators that suggest a person will support or commit violence; the FBI and DHS encourage state and local law enforcement partners to report suspicious activities that may be related to DVE activity.
A Jan. 13 Joint Intelligence Bulletin from the FBI, DHS and NCTC referred to the domestic violent extremist population as “loosely organized, sustained, and significant,” bound by false narratives that the election was “stolen” and by their shared political opposition. It also noted that the mingling of various movements – including militia and anti-government extremists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and conspiracy theory extremists – at the Capitol riot “likely served to foster connections” that could increase extremists “willingness, capability, and motivation to attack.”
That JIB stressed that emboldened domestic extremists are expected to carry out violence either alone or as a group toward racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as LGBTQ individuals or associated institutions. All told, these diverse threat actors “will very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats of 2021,” according to the Joint Intelligence Bulletin, and domestic extremists could respond with violence to policy shifts on issues such as gun control, immigration, and the use of public lands.