Domestic extremist groups could use the new restrictions meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 as an excuse to launch attacks, the Department of Homeland Security warned. “Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by domestic violent extremists, and they may contribute to more violence this year,” warned the Department of Homeland Security in its latest terrorism bulletin.
The risk of attacks surrounding COVID-19 restrictions is an example of how online forums that spread conspiracy theories have also called for violence. “Actors are increasingly exploiting online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity,” reads the bulletin. “Such threats are also exacerbated by impacts of the ongoing global pandemic, including grievances over public health safety measures and perceived government restrictions.” Amid the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, the potential for new restrictions could become “a rationale to conduct attacks,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
It isn’t just about the pandemic. As part of the threat assessment, DHS also warned there has been concern among law enforcement that “the broader sharing of false narratives and conspiracy theories will gain traction in mainstream environments, resulting in individuals or small groups embracing violent tactics to achieve their desired objectives.” These conspiracy theories often have to do with former President Donald Trump and the lie that he won the election. Recently, DHS warned local officials of potential violence sparked by an “increasing but modest level of individuals calling for violence in response to the unsubstantiated claims of fraud related to the 2020 election fraud and the alleged ‘reinstatement’ of former President Trump.”
Beyond the domestic threat, DHS also warned of a “heightened threat environment” ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “The Homeland continues to face a diverse and challenging threat environment leading up to and following the 20th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks as well religious holidays we assess could serve as a catalyst for acts of targeted violence,” notes the bulletin. DHS pointed out that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula recently released the first English-language copy of its Inspire magazine in more than four years. That shows how “foreign terrorist organizations continue efforts to inspire U.S.-based individuals susceptible to violent extremist influences.”