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DHS warns of 'heightened' extremism threat in U.S.

In response to recent events, including a hostage attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and threats directed at historically black colleges and universities, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warns that the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation is fueling a “heightened threat” of violence in the United States.

“The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors,”  the DHS warned in its latest bulletin.

“These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence.

“Mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances pose an ongoing threat to the nation.”

Supporters of foreign terrorist organizations have encouraged copycat attacks following the attack last month on the synagogue in Texas and ISIS or its affiliates “may issue public calls for retaliation due to the strike that recently killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi,” the bulletin said, both at a time when threats against the United States are increasingly unpredictable and complex, amid a host of conspiracy theories, foreign interference and calls for violence.

The primary terrorism threat to the U.S. continues to be from lone offenders or small groups who are motivated by a range of foreign and domestic grievances cultivated by online content, while the synagogue attack highlights the continuing threat of violence based on racial or religious motivations, as well as threats against faith-based organizations.

And while Russia is not named in the bulletin, officials accuse the country of promoting content through various means to the U.S. populations, particularly focusing on government response to COVID-19 and issues of race and immigration, as well as the 2020 election, in an effort to undermine credibility in the U.S. government.

The warning comes as efforts by a group of anti-vax protesters to shut down the Canadian capital city of Ottawa are picking up growing support from right-wing populists in the U.S. and other countries.

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Thomas Warrick, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of DHS Project, noted that the bulletin, which replaces one last published in November, is noteworthy for its emphasis on the impact of false and misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, originating with or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors.

“Most notable in recent months have been Russian disinformation efforts relating to Ukraine,” he told CNN, adding that DHS and US intelligence officials have previously pointed to state actors Russia, China and Iran, as well as terrorist groups, for their efforts to mislead and confuse the US public.

Fears about a Russian invasion of Ukraine have also exacerbated concern about Russian destabilization campaigns aimed at the U.S., according to a law enforcement source and a DHS memo that was shared with state and local officials in late January, reports CNN.

“This campaign constitutes the most significant Kremlin-driven messaging campaign in the last year and we expect this to continue to increase as the crisis over Ukraine worsens,” reads the memo, obtained by CNN.

This report was first published by The Crime Report.

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