The prevalence of conspiracy theories and bad or misleading information, online and in social media forums, is keeping the United States in a state of heightened alert when it comes to possible terror attacks.
The Department of Homeland Security issued an updated National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin Monday, warning that while many of the top threat streams have changed little over the past year, almost all of them are being amplified by the information environment.
DHS said the proliferation of false narratives aimed at undermining trust in public institutions, combined with growing calls for violence by both domestic actors and foreign terrorist organizations, “has increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment.”
Specifically, the updated DHS bulletin cites “widespread online proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19,” which it says is being amplified by “malign foreign powers.”
The bulletin also warns of continued calls for violence against soft targets — public venues and gatherings that often have limited security — including houses of worship such as churches, mosques and synagogues.
“The recent attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas highlights the continuing threat of violence based upon racial or religious motivations, as well as threats against faith-based organizations,” according to the bulletin.
Recent threats against historically Black colleges and universities also “cause concern and may inspire extremist threat actors to mobilize to violence,” the bulletin said.
Officials have also expressed concern about domestic groups advocating violence in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections in November and the possibility that foreign terrorists, especially those sympathetic to the Islamic State group, will launch attacks in retaliation for the death of IS leader Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla last week.
“DHS remains committed to proactively sharing timely information and intelligence about the evolving threat environment with the American public,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Monday.
“We also remain committed to working with our partners across every level of government and in the private sector to prevent all forms of terrorism and targeted violence, and to support law enforcement efforts to keep our communities safe,” he added.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department announced it was forming a new unit to help investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism, pointing to rising caseload.
According to the FBI, domestic violent extremists carried out four attacks in 2021, leading to 13 deaths.
An unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment released last March also warned of a broad threat from domestic extremists, focusing its concern on lone offenders and small cells, all subscribing to a diverse set of violent ideologies but “galvanized by recent political and societal events.”