Lifted COVID-19 restrictions provide opportunities for domestic extremists, DHS warns

Lifted COVID-19 restrictions provide opportunities for domestic extremists, DHS warns
© Greg Nash

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned Friday that the recent easing of some coronavirus restrictions could provide new opportunities for domestic extremists. 

“Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks,” the department warned in its latest National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin.

The bulletin comes just a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors.

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The newest guidance from the health agency comes amid a push by the Biden administration to urge hesitant Americans to get the vaccine.

DHS noted that some extremists are motivated by COVID-19 issues and restrictions directly.

The department noted that foreign adversaries “have increased efforts to sow discord” in the U.S. surrounding the pandemic and the vaccine.

“Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked media outlets have repeatedly amplified conspiracy theories concerning the origins of COVID-19 and effectiveness of vaccines; in some cases, amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent,” the department wrote.

Friday’s bulletin was released shortly before the department released joint report with the FBI that concluded lone wolf actors, who are often radicalized online, pose the greatest threat and often “look to attack soft targets with easily accessible weapons.”

“Many of these violent extremists are motivated and inspired by a mix of socio-political goals and personal grievances against their targets,” the report states.

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The warning was not just limited to COVID-19, as online discussions “have stated that civil disorder provides opportunities to engage in violence in furtherance of ideological objectives.”

DHS’s bulletin noted that government buildings and personnel are expected to remain a top target, as are protestors on “racial justice grievances and police use of force concerns” who are perceived to be ideological opponents.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last year set off nationwide protests over police brutality that lasted the summer of 2020. This April, the former officer involved in Floyd's killing was found guilty of second-degree murder, among other charges. 

Friday’s bulletin is the second major warning from DHS under the Biden administration.

Just days after President BidenJoe BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE’s inauguration, DHS warned that domestic violent extremists would continue to express opposition to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results and “other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.”

“DHS is concerned these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021 and some DVEs may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to target elected officials and government facilities,” the agency wrote at the time, using the shorthand for domestic violent extremists.