DHS sounds the alarm on potential summer violence linked to August conspiracy theory

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The August theory is essentially a recycled version of other false narratives pushed by Trump and his allies before and after January 6, sparking familiar rhetoric from those who remain in denial of his 2020 electoral defeat. is significant enough that DHS issued two warnings last week regarding the potential for violence this summer.

In a closed-door meeting last Wednesday, DHS officials briefed lawmakers on the role misinformation and disinformation play in creating the circumstances for people to act violently, according to a Congressional source familiar with the briefing.

On Monday, DHS released an intelligence bulletin for national and local law enforcement partners on the growing opportunities for violent extremist attacks this summer, including concerns that QAnon conspiracy theorists continue to promote. the idea that Trump will return to power in August, according to a familiar source.

This latest round of warnings reflects an effort by DHS to be more proactive in sharing information about domestic extremist threats since pro-Trump rioters stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, but this Also comes as the department is still grappling with hard truths about its own role in the security breaches that arose nearly six months ago.

The department has “no evidence” of a threat associated with the supposed date of Trump’s return to power, but historically some domestic violent extremists “have carried out violence to advance conspiracy theories,” according to the bulletin.

The bulletin also assessed the possibility of domestic terrorists seeking to exploit the easing of Covid-19 restrictions to attack a range of potential targets. The bulletin and the briefing were first reported by Politico.

“You are going to have more people. You are going to have more people in public places. And you are increasing the opportunities for individuals or groups of individuals who wish to carry out attacks,” a senior DHS official told CNN.

Some Trump supporters hinted at the possibility over the weekend at a rally in Ohio, where they were blunt in their assessment of what would happen if the former president was not reinstated more. late this summer.

“We’re going to be in a civil war,” a Trump supporter told CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan.

These concerns prompted the department to step up its efforts in working with national and local law enforcement and non-governmental entities to detect potential threats and mitigate them, the senior DHS official said.

A DHS spokesperson said the department was “focused on the link between violence and extremist ideologies” and worked to “prevent acts of domestic terrorism inspired by disinformation, conspiracy theories and false narratives disseminated via social media and other online platforms “.

Persistent questions on January 6

The January 6 attack exposed security loopholes in many law enforcement agencies, including massive intelligence failures, critical communication issues, and ignored warnings that ultimately led to the chaotic response from this that day.

These problems ultimately end up on DHS, an agency created to deal with similar intelligence failures that occurred prior to the 9/11 attacks and which has assumed responsibility for countering a growing threat posed by domestic extremists in recent years.

Yet there has not been a full account of DHS’s role in the security failures that occurred on January 6 despite investigative efforts by Congress and outside experts to date.

One of the more egregious questions is why the intelligence arm of DHS did not produce any bulletin or warning about the potential for violence on Capitol Hill on January 6.

Asked about the failure by CNN, the senior DHS official said there has been “absolutely” a concerted effort since President Joe Biden took office in January to provide more information to the public, as well as to state and local governments.

The General Office of the Homeland Security Inspector said it is reviewing whether the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis has fulfilled its responsibility to provide intelligence to law enforcement by Jan.6. .

Senate committees investigating Jan. 6 noted in a recent report that DHS had “not yet fully responded to committee inquiries” about its role that day, but a source familiar with the matter said to CNN that the department would likely provide more information going forward.

DHS Acting Intelligence Chief Melissa Smislova told Capitol Hill committees in March that it was a “complex challenge” to distinguish between those engaged in activities protected by the Constitution and those involved in violent behavior.

In recent months, DHS has attempted to pay more attention to domestic extremist threats, conducting an operational review of the department, prioritizing information sharing and communication with the tech industry, among other initiatives.

DHS is also examining whether more needs to be done to report high-risk individuals while traveling, potentially applying an additional review or notification to authorities, according to the senior official. It could go beyond the threshold to put someone on the terrorist watch list.

For example, DHS is considering applying this additional screening to someone deemed to be at risk of violence by local law enforcement or someone subject to a court order.

But the official stressed that this is still under review, as are several other DHS-led initiatives that were sparked by the January 6 fallout.

Concerns about infiltration

Meanwhile, officials look to August for potential threats. In addition to the conspiracy theory for Trump’s reinstatement, it is also the anniversary of two devastating domestic terrorism incidents – the El Paso, Texas, August 3 shooting that killed 23 people, and the car attack in Charlottesville, Va., in August. 12.

DHS is examining publicly available social media for explicit threats of violence as the anniversaries of these events approach, according to the newsletter shared earlier this week.

The general message at the Congressional briefing last week was that DHS faces the challenge of remaining vigilant about how online disinformation can lead to potential violence, according to a source familiar with what was said during the closed session.

“There are also concerns about the level of infiltration,” the source said. “This mindset is not really as marginal as we probably all would like. These people are part of civil society, they hold public sector jobs and positions of authority, and it is disturbing. “

The FBI and DHS have also detailed how followers of online conspiracy theories, particularly those that revolve around the 2020 election, are increasingly emboldened to act in the real world following the Jan.6 attack.

DHS has previously warned of the continuing threat posed by extremist “militias” who typically target law enforcement and government personnel and facilities.

The threat from militias “will almost certainly continue to be high throughout 2021” due to socio-political factors, according to a joint threat assessment on domestic extremism in March.

Individuals who claimed to be members of the same militia groups whose members face federal charges related to their actions on January 6 were in attendance at this Ohio Trump rally, a physical reminder of concerns about the threat they always represent.

“What is frightening is that these groups have specialized training, they have access to weapons, and the rage is shocking and overwhelming,” a source said of some of these militia groups who participated in the January 6.

“It feels like there’s just some sort of giant elephant in the room – a threat lurking a bit. It feels like he can sort of lift his head anytime,” he said. added the source. .


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