National Security

DHS Secretary: U.S. seeing growing connection between disinformation and domestic extremism

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
Greg Nash

The U.S. is seeing a growing connection between disinformation and the ongoing threat posed by domestic extremism, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday.

“I think that we are seeing, indeed, a greater connectivity between misinformation and false narratives propagated on social media and the threat landscape,” Mayorkas said when asked about ties to what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) classifies as domestic violent extremism.

“I think it’s very important to state that words matter. False narratives about a stolen election have an impact on the threat landscape. The words of leaders matter a lot. So I think we’re seeing a greater connectivity,” he continued.

Mayorkas’s comments came in a conversation with reporters ahead of the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to discuss DHS’s efforts to improve intelligence gathering and sharing to prevent future attacks.

The secretary said that misinformation forwarded by U.S. actors continues to be used by foreign adversaries to further sow division, something he said “creates a landscape of vulnerability for state actors to use to the detriment of the United States.”

“We’ve seen a continuing pattern of focus on the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 anniversary so it’s a continuation, but it certainly has not died down during the time period as we approach the anniversary,” added John Cohen, the head of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

Mayorkas said domestic violent extremism remains one of the greatest terrorism-related threat in the country, a category that includes not just extremist groups but also lone actors motivated by extremist ideology. 

“We are very focused on the lone actor or a loose affiliation of individuals, rather than necessarily an organized structure with a set and defined hierarchy, and that’s what I think can make the threat so challenging to address. It is that lack, it is the loose affiliation of individuals and the dynamic nature that they present,” Mayorkas said. 

“The use of encrypted channels of communication, it’s posed a challenge to law enforcement well before Jan. 6 2021. That is, quite frankly, another element that makes up the threat landscape for us, not just the fact that we are often addressing soul actors or loose affiliations of groups, but the fact that they can use encrypted channels of communication,” he said.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Department of Homeland Security DHS domestic extremism Jan 6. riot jan. 6 Jan. 6 attack John Cohen

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