U.S. security officials see no signs that threats to the homeland are decreasing now that the country has weathered contentious elections and a politically polarizing decision by the Supreme Court on abortion.
Although neither event sparked widespread violence, the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that the United States is still mired in “a heightened threat environment,” with little hope that things will get better over the next several months.
“Lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the homeland,” the department warned in a new National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin.
Senior DHS officials pointed to several recent acts of violence across the country — the shooting this month at a gay nightclub in Colorado, a rash of threats to various religious institutions and the October attack against the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as evidence of what they describe as a dynamic and complex threat landscape.
“We do not at this time have credible intelligence indicating an impending [attack],” a senior official told reporters, briefing on the condition of anonymity under ground rules established by the department.
“There's no one event that that caused us to issue this bulletin,” said a second senior DHS official. “This is a public communication … seeking to point out, to share with the American public, our concern about an ongoing threat environment that has persisted for a period of time now.”
Bulletin warns of extremists
One cause for concern, they said, is the information environment, which has enabled violent extremists to praise previous attacks and acts of violence and share writings or manifestos by the attackers.
U.S. officials have also seen the spread of conspiracy theories, some of which appeal to a wide range of extremists.
“One of the things we've seen with violent extremist ideologies is that they often commingle or cross over,” the second senior official said. “It just contributes to an environment where individuals … might grab on to those narratives in a way that motivates and animates their violent or potentially violent activity.”
While U.S. officials have emphasized the growing threat from domestic extremists, the DHS bulletin notes that “foreign terrorist organizations continue to maintain a visible presence online in attempts to motivate supporters to conduct attacks.”
Whether foreign or domestic, the new bulletin warns extremists could seize upon a number of upcoming events as justification for violence.
They include the ongoing certification of the results of this month’s midterm elections and the December 6 run-off election for the U.S. Senate seat in the southern state of Georgia.
“Fortunately, things went fairly well with the actual election,” one of the DHS officials told reporters when asked about concerns over potential election-related violence.
But he warned “that concern doesn't evaporate on Election Day.”
DHS says perceptions could trigger violence
DHS said other events that could spark violence include the two-year anniversary of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, and even holiday gatherings.
The department also said additional violence could be driven by the growing perception of overreach by the U.S. government, warning that government officials and even law enforcement officials could become targets.
“DHS is committed to working with partners across every level of government, in the private sector, and in local communities by sharing information, equipping communities with training and resources, and providing millions of dollars in grant funding for security enhancement and prevention,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Wednesday.
The department said such grants include $20 million in 2022 for prevention programs and another $250 million to help improve security for nonprofit organizations at risk of attack.
This is the seventh time DHS has issued a NTAS bulletin since January 2021. The previous bulletin, issued in June, also warned of a heightened threat environment, pointing to the anticipated Supreme Court decision on abortion and the potential for violence surrounding the November midterm elections.