coronavirus

DHS warns of increase in violent extremism amid coronavirus lockdowns

A DHS memo cites recent arrests of individuals who have threatened government facilities and elected officials over health restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security seal

Domestic terrorists and violent extremists are mobilizing in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the threat could get more severe “until the virus is contained and the normal routine of U.S. societal life resumes,” according to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence note sent to law enforcement officials around the country.

The memo, dated April 23 and obtained by POLITICO, cites recent arrests of individuals who have threatened government facilities and elected officials over the health restrictions that have been imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19. The warning, marked unclassified/law enforcement sensitive, was disseminated as so-called Liberate protesters have begun demonstrating outside several states' capitol buildings demanding an end to the lockdowns.

Those arrested in the last month include an “anti-government extremist” who threatened to kill New Mexico’s governor over the coronavirus restrictions, and another individual who was arrested late last month for allegedly threatening to blow up the Orlando Police Department’s headquarters — hours after a countywide stay-at-home order was put into effect — because people are being “put ... out of work” because of the pandemic.

“Recent incidents and arrests nationwide illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving violent actors—both non-ideologically and ideologically motivated—to threaten violence,” the memo reads. “These incidents indicate that COVID-19 is serving as the impetus for some domestic terrorist plots.”

DHS has issued three intelligence bulletins to law enforcement related to coronavirus over the last month, according to the memo, including one on March 23 outlining how terrorists are exploiting the pandemic to incite violence; one on March 30 about a violent extremist plot to attack a Missouri medical center; and one on April 1 about extremists’ use of social media to encourage biological attacks using the novel coronavirus. The latter was deemed “crudely viable” and warranting attention, but with likely minimal real-world effects.

“As the COVID-19 threat expands throughout the United States, the violent extremist threat will also continue to evolve, potentially increasing in frequency and severity,” the April 23 memo reads.

While social distancing measures have made mass gatherings less ubiquitous and therefore more difficult for bad actors to target, “the pandemic has created a new source of anger and frustration for some individuals,” the memo says. “As a result, violent extremist plots will likely involve individuals seeking targets symbolic to their personal grievances.”

The FBI has issued similar warnings to local police departments and law enforcement officials, including one last month warning that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions,” according to ABC News.

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