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Lone wolf actors post greatest domestic terror threat, FBI, DHS conclude

Lone wolf actors post greatest domestic terror threat, FBI, DHS conclude
© Greg Nash

A joint report released Friday by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warns that lone wolf actors pose the greatest terror threat as incidents of domestic extremism steadily rise.

“The greatest terrorism threat to the homeland we face today is posed by lone offenders, often radicalized online, who 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 two agencies wrote. 

The report was released shortly after a DHS bulletin warning that easing COVID-19 restrictions could provide new opportunities for domestic extremists to carry out attacks, while grievances about vaccines and racial justice demonstrations have fueled ideologically motivated violent extremists.

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The report found 2019 “represented the most lethal year” for domestic violent extremist attacks since 1995, the year the Oklahoma City bombing killed more than 160 people.

The two departments particularly highlighted the risks of white nationalists who are relying on “gamification...using fatality counts in attacks are referred to as ‘scores’” to motivate potential attackers.

“Widely disseminated propaganda on online forums and encrypted chat applications that espouse similar themes regarding kill counts could inspire future attackers to mobilize faster or attempt increasingly lethal and more sophisticated attacks,” the report states.

Even as the lethality of domestic terror incidents rose in 2019, the number of domestic terror arrests has fallen steadily since 2016.

The FBI arrested 229 subjects in fiscal 2019, with that number dropping to 107 for fiscal 2020. Those figures come from the roughly 1,000 domestic terror investigations conducted for the last three fiscal years in that period.

“The report confirms what has been clear for some time: The greatest terrorist threat we face comes from radicalized lone offenders with easy access to weapons. They attack soft targets and have a variety of motivations, but a large majority of the most significant attacks have been carried out by white supremacist extremists,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCyber concerns dominate Biden-Putin summit Senate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.