Domestic extremists 'will almost certainly' try to strike again this year, feds warn

Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
·3 min read

Emboldened by the deadly breach of the U.S. Capitol and fueled by conspiracy theories promoting violence, domestic extremists “will almost certainly’’ attempt to strike again this year, U.S. officials said in a newly declassified threat assessment.

The report — assembled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center, FBI and Department of Homeland Security — concluded that the threat posed by racially and ethnically motivated extremists, along with those associated with violent militias loomed as the "most lethal."

Tracking an uptick in activity involving militia members, the report found that the threat "will almost certainly continue to be elevated throughout 2021 because of contentious socio-political factors that motivate (militia-associated extremists) to commit violence."

Read it yourself: Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021

Facebook booted Donald Trump after a riot at the Capitol, but the company's Oversight Board  received an appeal arguing that the former president's Facebook and Instagram accounts should be restored.
Facebook booted Donald Trump after a riot at the Capitol, but the company's Oversight Board received an appeal arguing that the former president's Facebook and Instagram accounts should be restored.

The new assessment echoed a January warning that a "heightened threat environment" across the country would persist into the spring.

More: Homeland Security worries extremists 'emboldened' by Capitol riots may cause more violence

In the earlier bulletin issued by the DHS, authorities said they "remain concerned that individuals frustrated with the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition ... could continue to mobilize a broad range of ideologically motivated actors to incite or commit violence."

Poll: 70% of Americans think white nationalism played role in Capitol attack

At least a dozen members of the paramilitary group Oath Keepers have been charged in connection with the Capitol riots. And federal prosecutors signaled last week that they are pursuing a broad conspiracy involving "a large number of participants" who were involved in pre-planning and coordinating their actions during the siege.

"Several factors could increase the likelihood or lethality of (domestic violent extremist) attacks in 2021 and beyond, including ... growing perceptions of government overreach related to legal or policy changes and disruptions," the new report found, adding that new high-profile attacks could prompt "follow-on attacks and innovations in targeting and attack tactics."

Underscoring a long-standing concern, officials said lone offenders or small cells of extremists who adhere to a varied set of ideologies are "more likely" to carry out attacks in the homeland.

"Attackers often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization, making detection and disruption difficult," the report found.

The January DHS bulletin recalled the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, carried out by a lone attacker who killed 23 and later told police that he had targeted Mexicans.

The new intelligence report comes as police were investigating the fatal shootings of eight people in Atlanta, including six women of Asian descent, as Asian communities across the country remained on edge because of a recent surge of racially motivated violence.

Though police said early indications did not suggest Tuesday's attack was a hate crime, authorities cautioned that they had not settled on a motive for the 21-year-old white shooter.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said Tuesday's report affirmed years-long concern of a simmering threat from within the U.S.

"Domestic violent extremist groups represent a grave security threat and that social media platforms have served as core organizing infrastructure for white supremacists, violent extremist groups and militia movements – facilitating online radicalization and helping them recruit, organize, and in some cases, even coordinate across continents," Warner said.

“What happened on January 6 highlights the need to tackle the growing threat posed by domestic violent extremism in this country, and the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue to examine these issues closely.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., characterized the risk as far-reaching.

“This violence is not confined to lone wolves carrying out mass shootings or attacks, but more sophisticated cells and plots, as well," Schiff said. "Nevertheless, lone actors pose some of the most difficult challenges to detect, as they may keep their plans to themselves, or find like-minded individuals in private chat rooms."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US intelligence warns of domestic extremist threat, possible attacks