The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP) forecasts in its 2023 report that homegrown violent extremists and white racially motivated extremists will remain the highest terrorist threats to New Jersey this year.
Despite declining numbers, homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) remain a high threat due to their commitment to planning targeted violence against perceived opponents and organizing tactical training operations, while using social media to coordinate attacks and share personal grievances to justify violence. In the tristate area, authorities arrested five individuals that committed two attacks, one plot, and two instances of material support.
In November, authorities arrested Omar Alkattoul of Sayreville (Middlesex County) for using social media to share a manifesto containing a threat to attack a synagogue. According to the criminal complaint, Alkattoul researched mass shootings and methods for weapons acquisitions and stated his intent to conduct a “shooting attack.” In his manifesto, Alkattoul claimed that Jewish people were responsible for Muslim hatred in the West. He viewed propaganda online and recorded himself pledging allegiance to ISIS and its recently deceased leader. Alkattoul also empathized with and drew motivation from white racially motivated extremist Dylann Roof, who targeted black Christians. In addition to his desire to target a synagogue, he also stated he would attack a gay club.
In August, authorities arrested Herman Wilson for attempting to provide material support to ISIS. Wilson, also known as Bilal Mu’Min Abdullah, attempted to set up an “Islamic State Center” in Albuquerque for individuals who wished to fight for ISIS. His goal was to teach ISIS ideology, provide training and martial arts skills, and for the center to serve as a safe haven for individuals preparing to travel and fight for ISIS. Wilson also ran an online platform that discussed ISIS ideology, reviewed attacks in the US and overseas, and promoted the training center. He later tried to shut down the platform to impede the federal investigation.
In February 2022, authorities arrested Maine resident Xavier Pelkey for possession of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In November, federal authorities also charged him with providing material support to ISIS. Authorities found three homemade IEDs in Pelkey’s bedroom, as well as a hand-painted ISIS flag. Pelkey, along with two unidentified juveniles, located in Illinois and Kentucky, planned to attack “an identified Shia Muslim mosque in the Chicago area” or a synagogue. The subjects had coordinated all attack details exclusively via social media over the course of three months. Pelkey planned to bring the IEDs, firearms, and ammunition to Chicago in March 2022, when he would meet the juveniles to conduct the attack. Pelkey allegedly wanted law enforcement to kill him so that he could die a martyr.
White racially motivated extremists (WRMEs) will likely exploit military tactics, techniques, and procedures to gain combat experience, tactical training, and weapons proficiency. While WRMEs rely on recruitment of former and current military personnel, they also gain expertise through researching manifestos and online forums that justify their violent rhetoric and advocate attacking targets that oppose their views.
In August, authorities federally charged Killian Ryan for lying on his security clearance application. On that same day, he was discharged from the US Army for “serious misconduct.” An investigation revealed Ryan had ties to social media accounts that were “associated with racially motivated extremism.” He claimed he enlisted in the Army so he would be “more proficient in killing” black people and allegedly had numerous accounts where he communicated with other extremists.
In June, authorities arrested former Marine, Matthew Belanger, for using false statements to unlawfully obtain firearms. The FBI began investigating him in 2020 and found over 1,900 images related to “white power groups, Nazi literature, [and] brutality towards the Jewish community [and] women” on devices in his possession. He was allegedly the leader of a neo-Nazi group, which was planning to attack a New York synagogue, and members of the group claimed Belanger authored the group’s manifesto. The document called the rape of women an “effective tool” to “increase the production of white children” to intimidate enemies. The manifesto also advocated for the harming and killing of “enemies of the white race,” including attacks against the Jewish community and other ethnic groups. The military discharged Belanger from service in May 2021 due to “dissident/extremist activity.”
In June, authorities arrested a former Ohio National Guard member, Thomas Develin, for making and selling untraceable homemade weapons. Develin made the weapons with a 3D printer and also possessed homemade conversion devices to convert rifles and pistols into fully automatic machine guns. Develin made numerous antisemitic and violent statements while employed to provide security services at local synagogues and Jewish schools. While working, he posted comments online saying, “I’m at a Jewish school and about to make it everyone’s problem” and “the playground is about to turn into a self-defense situation.” During a search of his residence, authorities discovered more than 25 firearms, two IED manuals, night vision goggles, ballistic plates, a ballistic helmet, first aid equipment, and a large amount of ammunition.