U.S. Violent Extremists Seen Poised to Undertake Attacks in 2021
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg)

U.S. Violent Extremists Seen Poised to Undertake Attacks in 2021

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Extremists motivated by recent political and societal events pose a heightened risk of carrying out attacks in the U.S. during 2021, according to an unclassified assessment from American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Potential attackers will be inspired by biases “against minority populations and perceived government overreach,” which “will almost certainly continue to drive” radicalization, according to the four-page assessment released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.

The extremists will be moved by developments including “narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol, conditions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence,” the agencies said. Although the report didn’t say so, it’s a list of perceived grievances embraced by some supporters of former President Donald Trump.

The findings echoed recent remarks by FBI Director Christopher Wray and other U.S. officials to Congress, including to lawmakers investigating the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. And it comes amid heightened racial tensions in the U.S. in recent years.

“The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee this month.

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks anti-Asian violence, said it had received almost 3,800 reports of hate incidents since mid-March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic seized the U.S. and Trump began calling it “the China virus.” More than 500 of those attacks came in the first two months of 2021.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that “damaging rhetoric” during the Trump administration “led to perceptions of the Asian-American community that are inaccurate and unfair, and has elevated threats.”

White Supremacists

Violent extremists motivated by racial or ethnic bias are most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians, while extremists linked to militias will seek to target law enforcement and government personnel and facilities, according to the assessment.

Extremists who promote white supremacy have “the most persistent and concerning” international connections and communications with counterparts abroad who hold similar ideological beliefs, according to the report. It said a small number of extremists in the U.S. have traveled abroad to network with like-minded individuals.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said in a statement responding to the report that “the threat of white nationalism in particular has become a global phenomenon.”

U.S. agencies believe that the likelihood or lethality of violent acts in the coming months could be increased by escalating support from persons in the U.S. or abroad, as well as high-profile attacks that spur follow-on attacks, according to the report.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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