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Updated terror advisory warns of ‘complex and volatile’ threats from domestic and ‘grievance-based’ groups

DHS warns violent extremists may exploit easing of Covid-19 restrictions as false election narratives and conspiracy theories grow online

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 15 May 2021 01:04 BST
Related video: Susan Rice addresses white supremacist threats

The US Department of Homeland Security has renewed a terrorism advisory bulletin following the “increasingly complex and volatile” threats facing the US, including from “individuals and groups engaged in grievance-based violence” exploited across social media and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the Capitol insurrection on 6 January and Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January, the agency issued a bulletin warning that anti-government “ideologically motivated violent extremists” motivated by “perceived grievances fueled by false narratives” could “continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence” domestically.

That advisory expired at the end of April.

The new advisory – which expires on 13 August – maintains that those threats continue to spread online “with the intent to incite violence” against elected officials, government facilities, law enforcement and “perceived ideologically opposed individuals.”

It also points to their use of social media as a platform to discuss “a race war” by exploiting unrest.

DHS also admits that the use of encrypted messaging by “lone offenders and small violent extremist cells” has made it more difficult to identify “operational indicators that provide specific warning of a pending act of violence.”

The bulletin also says that “violent extremists” may exploit the easing of Covid-19 restrictions as states begin to open up.

National Terrorism Advisory System bulletins describe current developments or general trends in the state of terror threats but are not considered “elevated” or “imminent” warnings.

“Today’s terrorism-related threat landscape is more complex, more dynamic, and more diversified than it was several years ago,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

“We are advising the public to be vigilant about ongoing threats to the United States, including those posed by domestic terrorism, grievance-based violence, and those inspired or influenced by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences,” he said. “In this evolving threat environment, DHS is redoubling our efforts to detect and disrupt all forms of foreign and domestic terrorism and targeted violence, while safeguarding privacy protections, civil rights, and civil liberties.”

The updated bulletin arrives as federal law enforcement agencies begin to shift their focus on terrorism domestically, and inwardly, as DHS launches an internal review to address the state of domestic violent extremism within its own ranks.

DHS has also established a dedicated domestic terror unit within its intelligence office.

Joe Biden has sought to place combatting domestic violence and racism at the centre of his homeland security agenda.

A recently unclassified joint intelligence report – ordered within the president’s first days in office – determined that racially and ethnically motivated violence as well as violent militia groups present the “most lethal” threats in the US.

Perpetrators of racist violence are “most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks” against Americans, according to a report from Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the US Department of Justice.

Domestic violence extremists motivated by “a range of ideologies and galvanised by recent political and societal events” pose an “elevated threat” to the US in 2021, according to the report.

False narratives about the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, and conspiracy theories and conditions related to the coronavirus pandemic “will almost certainly” fuel more violence in 2021, the agencies reported.

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