Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Anniversaries of white supremacist attacks and lifting of Covid restrictions could inspire violence, DHS warns

Federal law enforcement continues to point to rise in conspiracy theory-related threats of violence

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 30 June 2021 20:57 BST
Trump supporter warns CNN civil war is coming in alarming live segment

A pair of intelligence bulletins from the US Department of Homeland Security have pointed to the upcoming anniversaries of two domestic attacks – the killing of 23 people in El Paso, Texas in 2019 and the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 – as well as the nation’s emergence from Covid-19-related restrictions as potential flashpoints for violence.

Federal authorities did not list any specific threats but warned that “violent extremists might seek to exploit” the easing of pandemic restrictions as well as “increased access to mass gatherings” and possible spikes in violence during the summer months “to conduct attacks against a range of potential targets with little or no warning,” according to ABC News.

Another bulletin said that law enforcement “continues to review publicly available social media for explicit threats of violence” as the anniversaries of large-scale domestic violence attacks near, according to Politico.

The FBI has pursued the killings of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019 as a hate crime and act of domestic terror, after a gunman reportedly inspired by New Zealand mosque shootings and white supremacist conspiracy theories committed the largest attack on Latino Americans in recent history.

In 2017, a rally featuring neo-Nazis and other far-right groups in Charlottesville turned violent, and a self-identified white supremacist drove a car into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring 19 people.

The DHS report also addresses proponents of QAnon, immersed in a decentralised belief system that has laundered disinformation and conspiracy theories tied to violence from obscure corners of the internet into mainstream channels across social media.

QAnon followers “continue to promote the idea” that Donald Trump will return to office in August, the report says.

The agencies “have no evidence of associated threats with the August date but historically some [domestic violent extremists, or DVEs] have conducted violence in furtherance of conspiracy theories”, according to the bulletin viewed by Politico.

In a statement to The Independent, a DHS spokesperson said the agency “is enhancing its ability to prevent acts of domestic terrorism inspired by disinformation, conspiracy theories, and false narratives spread through social media and other online platforms.”

“DHS is committed to sharing information with our partners to ensure the safety and security of all communities across the country,” the statement said.

That bulletin, published on Monday, marks at least the third time within the month that federal law enforcement has issued a warnings about potential threats of conspiracy theory-related violence, including the baseless idea that the former president will be reinstated.

Last week, a top counterterrorism official told members of Congress during a private briefing agencies were monitoring online claims about the conspiracy theory, according to Politico.

The vast online-driven movement, growing frustrated with calls to “trust the plan” as its predictions fail to materialise, may begin to engage in “real world violence” against lawmakers and perceived political enemies, according to an unclassified report from the FBI issued earlier this month.

QAnon proponents may begin to believe they have an “obligation” to accelerate beyond “digital soldiers” to carry out their prophesied violence rather than continue to wait for instruction, according to a document prepared by the FBI and DHS and viewed by The Independent.

Last month, DHS 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 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 fuelled by false narratives” could “continue to mobilise to incite or commit violence” domestically.

That advisory expired at the end of April.

The updated 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”.

Earlier this month, Joe Biden’s administration unveiled its first-ever National Domestic Terrorism Strategy, after federal law enforcement officials have warned about growing threats from right-wing extremists and racially motivated attacks.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in