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Politics / Issues

U.S. Intelligence Agencies Warn Of Heightened Domestic Extremism Threat

In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.
In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

A new report from the U.S. intelligence community warns of future, unspecified, violence committed by domestic extremists, who have been emboldened by the siege on the U.S. Capitol and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and coronavirus pandemic.

President Biden commissioned a threat assessment shortly after taking office. An unclassified summary of the findings, issued by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, was released Wednesday. The full, classified report was sent to the White House and Congress.

It concludes that racially and ethnically motivated extremists, such as white supremacists and those tied to violent militias, are considered the "most lethal" threats. Lone offenders or smaller cells of extremists are more likely than organizations to carry out attacks, and are proving harder for law enforcement to track.

The threat of militia extremist groups increased last year and is expected to continue to heighten throughout 2021, the report said. That's because of "sociopolitical factors" motivating these groups, "such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence."

The Jan. 6 attack insurrection at the Capitol was preceded by false election-rigging claims by President Donald Trump and others close to him. Those allegations have been repeatedly dispelled.

"Domestic violent extremism is typically fueled by false narratives, conspiracy theories, and extremist rhetoric usually spread through social media and other online platforms," said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in prepared remarks before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

The conclusions in Wednesday's report echo earlier analyses by the FBI warning of the ongoing dangers of domestic terrorism.

Mayorkas said Wednesday that, for the first time, DHS designated "combatting domestic extremism" a national priority area.

Tough to track

White supremacy groups are most likely to commit mass casualty attacks against civilians, the intelligence agencies said. Militia-like organizations are more focused on targeting law enforcement and other government personnel and their facilities.

Lone offenders pose the most significant challenges to tracking and disrupting their plans, the report summary said. That's because of their "capacity for independent radicalization to violence, ability to mobilize discretely, and access to firearms."

Connections are also being made to extremist groups with similar mindsets in other countries, the report said. White supremacy groups in particular are frequently communicating with similar organizations overseas and influencing one other. U.S. agencies have found a small number of those groups have traveled abroad to connect with one another.

Germany has reported its own issues of right-wing extremism plaguing the nation's police and security agencies. Recent reports indicate the country's domestic intelligence agency put the nation's largest opposition party, Alternative for Germany, under surveillance as a potential threat to the country's constitution.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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