‘Heightened threat environment’

(Credit: New York Times)

If you were wondering whether the United States was going to finally take the threat of far-right anti-government domestic terrorism seriously, it looks like we have an answer.

Earlier today, the Department of Homeland Security issued a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, the first in more than a year. The bulletin was released “due to a heightened threat environment across the United States, which DHS believes will persist in the weeks following the successful Presidential Inauguration.”

If you want to know what a major shift this is in our acknowledgment of the real terrorist threats facing this country, just compare it to the DHS report released last September which, while acknowledging the threat posed by white-supremacist terrorists, buried it on p.27 of a 30-page report while falsely equating it with that from left-wing groups like antifa and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Or compare it to joint DHS/DOJ terrorism analysis released in January 2018, which claimed that three out of four people convicted of terrorist offenses are foreign born while intentionally omitting any mention of the threat of domestic terrorism posed by white supremacist and other right-wing groups.

That past blindness has been a refusal to acknowledge what is the ugly truth about terrorism in America, that the main threat comes from the racist and anti-government far-right wing of our country’s political spectrum. And this isn’t just true now, it is also the case historically, as I’ve written about in this space before.

In case the point needs emphasizing, just two days ago a federal appeals court upheld the conviction of three Kansas militia members who in 2016 plotted to set off simultaneous car bombs targeting a mosque and apartments housing Somali immigrants in Garden City. At their sentencing in 2018, one defendant’s lawyers argued for leniency on the grounds that his client had been radicalized by then-candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.

But back to the NTAS bulletin. DHS assess that “some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.” Here are the details:

Throughout 2020, Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) targeted individuals with opposing views engaged in First Amendment-protected, non-violent protest activity.  DVEs motivated by a range of issues, including anger over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results, and police use of force have plotted and on occasion carried out attacks against government facilities. 

Long-standing racial and ethnic tension—including opposition to immigration—has driven DVE attacks, including a 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 23 people.

DHS is concerned these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021 and some DVEs may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to target elected officials and government facilities.

DHS remains concerned that Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs) inspired by foreign terrorist groups, who committed three attacks targeting government officials in 2020, remain a threat.

Threats of violence against critical infrastructure, including the electric, telecommunications and healthcare sectors, increased in 2020 with violent extremists citing misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 for their actions.  

DHS, as well as other Federal agencies and law enforcement partners will continue to take precautions to protect people and infrastructure across the United States.

DHS remains committed to preventing violence and threats meant to intimidate or coerce specific populations on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity, identity or political views.

DHS encourages state, local, tribal, and territorial homeland security partners to continue prioritizing physical security measures, particularly around government facilities, to protect people and critical infrastructure.