National Security

Report finds growing white nationalist threat

Domestic terrorists, and in particular militia groups and white nationalists, pose an elevated terror threat, the intelligence community said Wednesday in a new report ordered in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“Narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence—will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] to try to engage in violence this year,” according to the report.

The report, crafted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice, comes after President Biden ordered a sweeping review of domestic terror threats just days after taking office.

The report stresses that lone wolf actors and small groups of extremists are the most likely to carry out attacks, warning that they “often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization, making detection and disruption difficult.”

The report comes as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday issued a similar warning to lawmakers of the risks posed by small groups of extremists.

“At this point in time, domestic violent extremism, the lone wolf, the loose affiliation of individuals following ideologies of hate and other ideologies of extremism that are willing and able to take those ideologies and execute on them in unlawful, illegal, violent ways is our greatest threat in the homeland right now,” he said.

Tuesday’s shootings in Atlanta were an all too fresh reminder of the dangers of lone wolf attacks.

The shootings at three massage parlors killed eight people, including six Asian women, though police said Wednesday that it was too early to determine the shooter’s motive.

“Lone offenders will continue to pose significant detection and disruption challenges because of their capacity for independent radicalization to violence, ability to mobilize discretely, and access to firearms,” the report said.

Wednesday’s assessment warned that racially motivated extremists and militia groups present the most lethal threat, with the first most likely to conduct mass casualty events targeting civilians, while militia groups focus on government and law enforcement targets. 

The report also specifically focused on the threat from white nationalist groups, saying they have “the most persistent and concerning transnational connections.”

The assessment largely falls in line with a push from Democratic lawmakers, who have argued the intelligence community needs to focus its efforts on white nationalists as well as right-wing extremists.

In a letter to the FBI last month, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the agency to further break down its categories for different types of extremists, arguing that broad categories like racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists “minimize the threat of white supremacist and far-right violence.”

That sentiment was echoed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday.

“Today’s report underscores how we face the greatest threat from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, especially white supremacists, and militia violent extremists,” he said in a statement.

“This violence is not confined to lone wolves carrying out mass shootings or attacks, but more sophisticated cells and plots, as well. Nevertheless, lone actors pose some of the most difficult challenges to detect, as they may keep their plans to themselves, or find like-minded individuals in private chat rooms,” he said.

The assessment noted those same challenges, identifying social media as a recruitment tool while blaming encrypted messaging applications for making it more difficult to monitor how groups are recruiting and planning.

In a recent appearance before lawmakers, FBI Director Christoper Wray said teasing out serious threats online while trying to monitor the communications of serious actors presents some of the agency’s biggest challenges.

“Trying to figure out who’s just saying, you know, ‘What we ought to do is X’ or ‘Everybody ought to do X’ versus the person who’s doing that and actually getting traction and then getting followers. And of course that’s assuming they’re not communicating through encrypted channels about all that stuff is one of the hardest things there is to do in today’s world,” he said.

Tags Adam Schiff Alejandro Mayorkas Capitol riot domestic terrorism Joe Biden white nationalists

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