DHS Terrorism Threat Bulletin Warns Online Forums Encourage Counterfeit Uvalde Attacks

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a terrorism threat bulletin on Tuesday warning that online forums harboring domestic violent extremist content and conspiracy theories have encouraged copycat attacks in the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Analysts with DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis believe that these online platforms also “seized on the event in an attempt to spread misinformation and incite grievances, including claiming it is was a government-sponsored event to advance gun control measures.”

As analysts investigate recent tragedies looking for common factors or motives, researchers have uncovered a disturbing trend among gunmen in fatal shootings nationwide.

Since 2018, six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the United States have been perpetrated by gunmen 21 or younger.

“With younger individuals committing these attacks, we believe – and it’s something we always examine – that access to online content really fuels these personal grievances and often inaccurate misperceptions about current events,” said a senior Homeland Security official. official told reporters during a briefing this week. “It’s really difficult for young people to navigate the Internet and understand what is considered credible information that they consume.”

Among the conspiracy theories inspiring grievances is an unsubstantiated notion of “great replacement” or “white genocide” which falsely claims, “minorities, multiculturalists and a ruling elite deliberately threaten the existence of the white race”, according to the bulletin.

Longstanding “racist, anti-black and anti-Semitic” sentiment and source of terror has resurfaced in public dialogue after fueling a series of mass shootings, including the attack in Buffalo, New Yorkwho killed 10 people in a supermarket on the predominantly black east side of town.

The accused gunman posted online that the shoppers he was targeting were from a culture that sought to “ethnically replace my own people”.

“The alleged attacker of 2019 in a Walmart in El Paso, TX cited similar grievances and inspiration for the attack, and attackers from Buffalo and El Paso said they were inspired by the 2019 attacker of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand,” a warned DHS in its latest National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin, reiterating concerns about ideological beliefs that spark copycat attacks.

In 2018, a gunman who in an online screed blamed Jews for allowing immigrant “invaders” into the United States shot and killed 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“As recent acts of violence in communities across the country have so tragically demonstrated, the nation remains in an environment of heightened threat, and we expect that environment to become more dynamic in the months ahead,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security remains committed to providing timely information and resources to the American public and our partners at all levels of government, law enforcement, and the private sector.”

But the surge in online threats has left a hurdle for investigators and analysts: determining which posts on extremist-aligned internet forums pose real threats or, in law enforcement terms, can be considered “specific and believable”.

“The way the threat has manifested makes it difficult to determine what is truly specific and believable,” the DHS official said. “Many violent extremists often act alone using simple tactics. They radicalize into violence based on information they often consume via the internet.”

The official continued, “They mobilize for violence based on their perceptions of emerging or current events, and when they do, they give little or no warning. So it’s hard for us to really understand in to what extent someone intends to carry out these attacks.”

Beyond the challenge of qualifying calls for violence as “specific” or “credible,” law enforcement officials increasingly face another problem.

“We’re seeing more types of actors,” the DHS official said. “Different types of actors who have different personal or ideological grievances [are] answer[ing] to events that we haven’t seen in the past.”

More recently, this has resulted in individuals from all ideological walks of life trying to use the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson majority draft opinion – which seemed to indicate that the Supreme Court was about to overturn Roe versus Wade – to mobilize or encourage violence.

“[W]We are concerned that grievances related to the restriction of access to abortion in general will fuel a broader response, not only from pro-choice violent extremists, but also from individuals motivated by racial beliefs. or ethnic… [who have] worldviews on things like “white genocide” or other conspiracy theories associated with white superiority and how they might exploit that environment again to promote violence. »

But the impending Supreme Court ruling isn’t the only current event on Homeland Security officials’ radar. The NTAS advisory also concluded that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists “directed against democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events and election workers are likely to increase” in the mid-term elections. -mandate.

“The extent to which individuals may still have grievances associated with the 2020 general election, or any ongoing misinformation or conspiracy theories that are being promulgated around these midterm elections… people may feel they have to commit acts of violence in response to the election season or the outcome of those elections,” the DHS official said. “So certainly, at least until the fall, we’re keeping an eye on that.”

The department warned that “foreign actors” could also seize intermediaries “to sow discord and influence the American public consistent with practices in previous election cycles.”

The new newsletter develops a NTAS bulletin published in February which was due to expire on Tuesday.

In the middle of the chase Russian invasion of Ukraineanalysts also recorded that “Russia and other actors have also amplified conspiracy theories alleging US responsibility for the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and asserting US support for biological weapons labs abroad. Some of these actors have used these conspiracy theories to justify calls for violence against US officials and establishments.”

The false and baseless claim that Ukraine was developing biological weapons with the help of US government labs began to gain momentum on Twitter in the aftermath of the Russian invasion.

Tuesday’s bulletin highlighted other foreign terrorism-related efforts to amplify the New York City subway shooting in April 2022, in which an individual wearing a gas mask threw two smoke bombs and opened fire on a train platform during rush hour, injuring dozens of people.

In 2022, DHS provided $250 million in funding to support nonprofit organizations at high risk of terrorist attack, including places of worship, to strengthen physical security. Mayorkas has proposed increasing grant allocations to a total of $360 million in fiscal year 2023. DHS has also awarded 37 grants totaling $20 million under its Targeted Prevention Program. Violence and Terrorism (TVTP) in 2021, designed to help local communities counter extremist threats.

“Our goal is to empower the whole community, whether it’s the people who work in the school, the school administrators, the counsellors, the religious leaders…to engage with these people “, noted another senior DHS official when asked about how the federal government plans to mitigate the threat of future attacks. The official stressed that members of the community will be “the first to potentially identify an individual who is going down a path of violence.”

The Biden administration has released more than 100 intelligence products related to domestic violent extremism, according to a senior DHS official, including six NTAS bulletins. The last one is due to expire on November 30, 2022.

Harry L. Blanchard