False claims of fraud in the 2020 election are fueling calls for violence on social media, the Department of Homeland Security is warning local police departments.
“DHS has seen an increasing but modest level of individuals calling for violence in response to the unsubstantiated claims of fraud related to the 2020 election fraud and the alleged ‘reinstatement’ of former President Trump,” a DHS spokesperson told NBC News.
Officials were clear that they have no intelligence of a specific domestic terrorism plot. But DHS leaders say they believe security agencies were unprepared for the Jan. 6 riot in part because they paid too little attention to violent and extremist rhetoric on social media.
In an effort to avoid repeating that mistake, the department is trying to sound the alarm among local police agencies about the potential for political violence.
DHS issued a so-called awareness bulletin last week and discussed the security climate at a meeting with intelligence officers from major police agencies, including departments in New York, Washington and Las Vegas, DHS officials told NBC News.
“We are currently in a heightened terrorism-related threat environment, and DHS is aware of previous instances of violence associated with the dissemination of disinformation, false narratives and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election,” the DHS spokesman said.
“Currently, DHS lacks specific or credible reporting indicating that violent extremists are planning to target specific events,” the spokesperson added.
A second DHS official told NBC News that the agency has watched conspiracy theories about the 2020 election migrate from obscure internet forums to more mainstream ones, and “we are concerned about calls to violence.”
"Past circumstances have illustrated that calls for violence could expand rapidly in the public domain and may be occurring outside of publicly available channels,” says a passage from an awareness bulletin that was read to NBC News. “As such, lone offenders and small groups of individuals could mobilize to violence with little-to-no warning."
The bulletin was first reported by ABC News.
NBC News reported in May that DHS under Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has stepped up efforts to gather and analyze intelligence about security threats from public social media posts, DHS officials said.
The goal is to build a warning system to detect the sort of posts that appeared to predict an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 but were missed or ignored by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, officials said.
“DHS is focused on the nexus between violence and extremist ideologies,” the spokesman said. “DHS does not monitor posts or engagements from individual people — rather DHS is focused on identifying and evaluating narratives and disinformation that may incite violence.”
Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray have repeatedly warned this year that the threat from domestic terrorism is large and growing. Wray revealed in June that the FBI had at least 2,000 open domestic terrorism investigations.
“The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray told Congress.