WASHINGTON — Domestic extremists continue to exploit false narratives to promote violence online, calling for attacks on members of Congress and public health and school officials, even as they share information about how to build bombs, according to a new intelligence bulletin by the Department of Homeland Security that paints a picture of persistent danger.
The new National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin, released Wednesday afternoon, replaces an existing bulletin published in August, which said "ethnically motivated violent extremists and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists will remain a national threat priority for the United States."
The new document includes a lot of the same language. But it speaks to some new developments, including the exploitation of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan by both foreign terrorists and domestic racists.
Foreign Islamic extremists "have sought to use events related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to inspire potential followers to conduct attacks in the U.S.," the document said, and domestic extremists have sought to capitalize on concerns about the resettlement of Afghan refugees inside the U.S.
In general, the bulletin continued, "threats include those posed by individuals and small groups engaged in violence, including domestic violent extremists and those inspired or motivated by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences. These actors continue to exploit online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity."
The ongoing pandemic continues to be a spark for violent rhetoric, DHS found, especially by those angered by mask and vaccine mandates and restrictions on normal activity.
If a new Covid-19 variant emerges and new restrictions are imposed, "anti-government violent extremists could potentially use the new restrictions as a rationale to target government or public health facilities."
Foreign intelligence services, foreign terrorist organizations and domestic violent extremists "continue to introduce, amplify and disseminate narratives online calling for violence," the bulletin said.
They also "continue to derive inspiration and obtain operational guidance regarding the use of IEDs and small arms through the consumption of information shared in online forums."
"Extremists have called for attacks on elected officials, political representatives, government facilities, law enforcement, religious communities, commercial facilities and perceived ideological opponents."
John Cohen, DHS' head of counterterrorism and intelligence, told a House committee last week that "the period of threat that we are in today is one of the most complex, volatile and dynamic that I have experienced in my career."