Terrorist organizations and domestic violent extremists have upped their online threats against certain groups of Americans and critical infrastructure in recent weeks, according to an intelligence memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security obtained by The Daily Beast.
The calls for attacks have specifically targeted the LGBTQIA+ community, journalists, the White House, and perceived enemies of Islam in recent weeks, according to the memo.
The agency also reported an uptick in demands for attacks against law enforcement, government, and military entities.
Violent extremists have been providing guidance on how to conduct these attacks, including suggesting the use of Molotov cocktails, firearms, and arson, the intelligence memo, which was released in the last week, states.
Much of the communication takes place on Telegram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook, the memo, which was prepared by the DHS Counterterrorism Mission Center and coordinated by the DHS Intelligence Enterprise, notes.
Some of the content calls for attacks during Ramadan, while others focus on calling for violence against the LGBTQIA+ community following the Nashville shooting. The threats include calls to use explosives to sabotage an oil project in Alaska, or to attack law enforcement and journalists, the memo states. The document highlights some pro-Al-Qaeda media outlets that have allegedly been spreading photos of U.S. citizens visiting Yemen, with guidance to kill Americans—while other media focused on attacking substations in the United States.
The intelligence memo comes as the country remains in a “heightened threat environment” when it comes to terrorism threats, according to a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin from November viewed by The Daily Beast. The alert expires at the end of this May.
Domestic violent extremism has been growing in recent years in the United States. From 2020 to 2021, investigations involving domestic violent extremism doubled from about 1,400 to 2,700, according to a report from DHS and the FBI released last year. A large part of the increase that year was related to the attack against the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
Inside the Memo
The intelligence memorandum particularly warns that ISIS and pro-ISIS media have worked to rally supporters to conduct attacks against perceived enemies of Islam during Ramadan, which began in late March. The celebration of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, is set to take place this Friday.
If “jihad” is combined with “the virtue of another season of obedience” it will be “light upon light and good above good,” a pro-ISIS media outlet posted in March, for example, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute’s Jihad & Terrorism Threat Monitor.
Other pro-ISIS media focuses on calling for unspecific attacks in Kansas City, Missouri as well as against the White House, the memo warns.
The Biden administration is not tracking any specific or credible threats against the White House from ISIS supporters in the United States right now.
The intelligence bulletin also warns that a newly-formed ISIS media group has been created in a likely attempt to grow ISIS support networks.
It warns that domestic violent extremist media has continued to urge attacks against electrical substations, with a particular focus on the shooting attack against a substation in Moore County of North Carolina last year that left thousands without power.
Domestic violent extremists have been developing plans to go after electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, according to a DHS bulletin previously obtained by The Daily Beast. White supremacists expressed interest in “wreaking havoc” on the power grid if former President Donald Trump lost the election in 2020.
The warning coincides with a surge of attacks against substations in recent months—other substations in North Carolina last year were also attacked with gunfire. Power companies in Oregon and Washington also reported physical attacks against substations with hand tools, arson, firearms and metal chains. Just this February, the FBI arrested two people suspected to be planning attacks on power stations with the goal of totally destroying Baltimore.
“Typical physical security incidents against the grid involve vandalism, tampering, arson, and ballistic damage,” Jim Robb, President and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), said in a statement Thursday.
In total, nearly 1,700 physical security incidents were reported to the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) last year, Robb said.
The industry and the government need to collaborate more on securing critical infrastructure against these kinds of attacks, Brian Harrell, a former Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection at DHS said.
“Extremists on the left and right continue to fantasize about attacks on critical infrastructure,” Harrell told The Daily Beast. “This is a growing trend here in the U.S., but also globally. Industry owns the infrastructure, so it’s imperative that the private sector stay coordinated with law enforcement and National Security partners.”
Federal regulators, however, are still working to assess security standards for substations. Last December, regulators directed a review of security standards for power stations in order to deal with the attacks. NERC will be holding a technical conference to examine physical protections for substations and other measures that can help mitigate any physical attacks in the future, NERC announced Thursday. NERC told The Daily Beast there is no date yet set for the conference.
The FBI, for its part, is working to track down perpetrators. The agency is offering three rewards of $25,000 for information that leads to conviction of those responsible for attacks in North Carolina.
An FBI official confirmed Thursday “the electrical substation shooting investigations are ongoing.”
The intelligence memo also warns that domestic violent extremists have “intensified” their “narratives justifying violence against members of the LGBTQIA+ community” after a school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee in which the shooter reportedly identified as transgender. In Tennessee, where the legislature recently banned gender-affirming medical care and passed other anti-trans legislation, the trans community has been fearing backlash. In the direct aftermath of the shooting, several conservatives leaned on the incident to push anti-trans narratives. Fox News host Tucker Carlson posted a photo of the alleged shooter and labeled the image “Trans Killer” on his Tuesday show that week, The Washington Post reported.
Transgender people are rarely behind mass shootings.
Domestic violent extremists have latched onto previous shootings involving the LGBTQI+ community. The November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado, saw a wave of online actors praising the alleged shooter, according to a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin from November. Other domestic violent extremists in the United States praised another shooter who targeted an LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia in October. The attacker had shared a manifesto expressing white supremacist beliefs, the bulletin states.
A DHS spokesperson said in a statement on the memo that DHS “regularly shares information regarding the heightened threat environment with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officials to ensure the safety and security of all communities across the country.”
The U.S. Intelligence Community has assessed that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, who use neo-Nazism or white supremacy to rally support for attacks against government institutions or for fascist governments, is one of the top threats to the United States. These kinds of attacks “pose the most lethal threat to U.S. persons and interests,” a U.S. intelligence assessment from February noted.
Some of the threats and encouragement for attacks from pro-ISIS or Al-Qa’ida elements are not entirely surprising, according to the Intelligence Community assessment.
“U.S. persons and interests at home and abroad will face a persistent and increasingly diverse threat from terrorism during the next year,” the report states.
Although ISIS and Lebanese Hizballah have lost several leaders in the last year, they will continue to inspire attacks in the United States, according to the report. “ISIS’s ideology and propaganda, however, almost certainly will continue to inspire attacks in the West, including in the United States,” the assessment notes. “Al-Qa‘ida remains committed to attacking U.S. interests.”