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Law enforcement warns of conspiracy-driven violence ahead of midterms

A bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center warned about violence inspired by claims of election fraud.
A Capitol Police officer performs a security sweep on Jan. 6, 2020.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

U.S. law enforcement has circulated bulletins warning that conspiracy theorists could become violent around the midterm elections on Nov. 8.

The bulletins, obtained by NBC News, are unclassified but intended only for law enforcement.

One of the bulletins, issued Friday by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, and marked “for official use only,” warned about domestic violent extremism, or DVE in law enforcement circles.

“We assess that election-related perceptions of fraud and DVE reactions to divisive topics will likely drive sporadic DVE plotting of violence and broader efforts to justify violence in the lead up to and following the 2022 midterm election cycle,” the bulletin said. 

“The most plausible DVE threat is posed by lone offenders who leverage election-related issues to justify violence,” it said.

Though it warned of potential extremists from “across the ideological spectrum,” the bulletin stressed the likelihood that violence would most likely come from people who believed in election fraud, which has remained a major issue for Republicans despite repeated debunkings of all major claims. A recent NBC poll found that two-thirds of Republicans still don’t believe in the legitimacy of the 2022 election.

The warnings come as authorities investigate an assault on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in their home in San Francisco. The man accused in the violent attack appeared to operate a website on which he published his thoughts on a wide variety of far-right conspiracy theories.

The second bulletin, issued Wednesday by the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau and marked “law enforcement sensitive,” reached similar conclusions and cited multiple examples of violent claims on social networks often used by conspiracy theorists.

Those include an Oct. 10 post on the fringe social media platform Gab in which a user wrote, “Death penalty for election fraud! Make traitors hang again!” and an Aug. 26 post to a far-right message board encouraging users to attend “one of these political rallies with a ghost gun and shoot your shot.”

“From mid-September to early October, users across extreme-right, ultranationalist, and QAnon extremist forums called for adherents to become ‘poll challengers’ and encouraged violence, intimidation tactics, and the sabotage of voting machines, if they believed they witnessed ‘fraud’ and ‘cheating’ at the polls,” the NYPD bulletin said.