United States

An Assessment of the Current Terror Threats to the United States

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches and coronavirus is in rapid circulation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a new National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin, warning of the threat of extremist violence in the United States. This advisory is an update of the previous assessment. It is not based on any specific threat information, but rather represents the DHS’s analysis of the condition of the United States.

Coronavirus Threat

The DHS has warned local police departments that opposition to another pandemic-related lockdown policy could constitute a “terror threat.” However, this new advisory is “not based on any actual threats or plots” but has stemmed from the “rise in anti-government rhetoric.” This is largely connected to mask and vaccine mandates. The advisory states that, “through the remainder of 2021, racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists will remain a national threat priority for the United States.” It warns that these extremists may seek to exploit the resurgence of COVID-19. Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to an increase in societal strains and tensions. In turn, this could lead to several plots by domestic violent extremists.

Houses of Worship and Commercial Gatherings Threat

Also included in Friday’s advisory, is a warning of the threat of RMVEs that sometimes target houses of worship and crowded commercial facilities or gatherings. As more institutions are beginning to reopen including schools, churches, synagogues, and mosques, there are several dates of religious significance. This includes the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up in September. These significant dates could provide an increased target of opportunity for violence though there are currently no credible or imminent threats identified to these locations.

Online Threat

One other major warning of the advisory is for people to continue to be cautious of false narratives, conspiracy theories, and misinformation being spread online and through online communities. It states that:

“Ideologically motivated violent extremists fueled by personal grievances and extremist ideological beliefs continue to derive inspiration and obtain operational guidance through the consumption of information shared in certain online communities.”

Violent extremists may use messaging platforms or techniques to obscure operational indicators that provide specific warnings of a pending act of violence. Russian, Chinese, and Iranian governments, have all been linked to media outlets, aiming to “sow discord” and amplify conspiracy theories. These are largely concerning the origins of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of vaccines. This rhetoric has also led to amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.

Afghanistan Threat

While the report does not specifically mention the worsening situation in Afghanistan, it mentions acknowleges that:

“Al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula recently released its first English-language copy of Inspire magazine in over four years. This demonstrates that foreign terrorist organizations continue efforts to inspire U.S.-based individuals susceptible to violent extremist influences.”

It is a huge concern to both US government officials and their citizens that Al-Qaeda could rebuild in Afghanistan. Consequently, this may be a signifiacant threat under the Taliban rule. Unfortunately, this will lead to an increased threat of terror to the United State. Subsequently, this could become a major target of terrorist plots.

How the DHS is Responding

The DHS is taking various steps in response to these new threats. They are monitoring all online platforms to identify and evaluate calls for violence. This includes online activity associated with the spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and false narratives. The report moreover encourages the public to maintain awareness of the evolving threat environment and report suspicious activity.

The DHS is coordinating with state and local law enforcement and public safety partners. They aim to maintain situational awareness of potential violence in their jurisdictions and maintain open lines of communication with federal partners. Finally from a more broad standpoint, the DHS states that it will “remain committed to identifying and preventing terrorism and targeted violence while protecting the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of all persons.

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