The U.S. intelligence community concluded domestic violent extremists pose an “elevated threat” in 2021, following a year marked by a pandemic, economic downturn, nationwide protests, and the fallout from a presidential election.
The declassified assessment, put together by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and released Wednesday, focused on domestic violent extremists, U.S.-based actors who carry out operations threatening human life in violation of the law with intent to intimidate civilians and to coerce governments. Categories include racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists.
“The IC assesses that domestic violent extremists who are motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanized by recent political and societal events in the United States pose an elevated threat to the Homeland in 2021,” the joint report concluded. “Enduring DVE motivations pertaining to biases against minority populations and perceived government overreach will almost certainly continue to drive DVE radicalization and mobilization to violence. Newer sociopolitical developments — such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence — will almost certainly spur some DVEs to try to engage in violence this year.”
The ODNI assessment was compiled in consultation with the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department and drafted by the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, and DHS, with input from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency.
The report stated, “lone offenders or small cells,” which adhere to a “diverse set” of violent ideologies, are “more likely to carry out violent attacks” than organizations that “allegedly advocate a domestic violent extremist ideology.” Attackers “often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization,” according to the report.
The intelligence community concluded that “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” and “militia violent extremists” are most lethal, with the racially motivated sort “most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians” and those tied to militias “typically targeting law enforcement and government personnel and facilities.” The report said the militia threat increased last year and “will almost certainly continue to be elevated throughout 2021 because of contentious sociopolitical factors.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate in early March that the bureau viewed the siege of the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorism.”
Wray said some of those arrested were classified under “militia violent extremism,” pointing to members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Others were “racially motivated violent extremists, specifically advocating for the superiority of the white race,” Wray said. Members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been hit with conspiracy charges for their alleged roles in the Capitol siege.
The intelligence report contended that extremists “who promote the superiority of the white race” are the ones with the “most persistent and concerning transnational connections” because actors with similar ideologies exist outside of the United States, and these extremists “frequently communicate with and seek to influence each other.” The intelligence community said it assessed that “a small number” of them “have traveled abroad to network with like-minded individuals.”
The intelligence community assessed numerous factors could lead to an uptick in the “likelihood or lethality” of extremist attacks in 2021 and going forward, “including escalating support from persons in the United States or abroad, growing perceptions of government overreach related to legal or policy changes and disruptions, and high-profile attacks spurring follow-on attacks and innovations in targeting and attack tactics.”
During testimony this month, Wray stressed that the problem is bigger than the Capitol siege on Jan. 6.
“The FBI will not tolerate agitators and extremists who plan or commit violence. Period. And that goes for violent extremists of any stripe. As I’ve said many times, we do not investigate ideology, but we focus on acts of violence and violations of federal law. And when we see those, we will bring to bear the full weight of our resources, our experience, and our partnerships,” he said. “And when domestic extremists use explosive devices, when they attack government facilities and businesses, when they assault law enforcement officers, when they use violence to interfere with the lawful operation of our government, they should expect the FBI to come knocking on their door.”
The FBI’s Crime Report showed a significant increase in murder in 2020 from the agencies that reported their numbers, and the bureau statistics from a sample of three dozen cities for the first quarter of 2021 indicate a continued rise in the murder rate when compared to the corresponding months last year.
The Justice Department indicated last year that more than 300 people were charged with federal crimes during protests in 2020, with 80 charges related to arson and explosives and others tied to assault on law enforcement and destruction of government property. More than two dozen people died during the violence. Property Claims Services estimated last year that the insurance losses from the summer protests totaled $1 billion to $2 billion.
At the same time, the world was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic that Johns Hopkins University estimates has killed 537,000 people in the U.S. and 2.67 million worldwide.
“When it comes to racially motivated violent extremism, that number, again, number of investigations and number of arrests, has grown significantly on my watch, and the number of arrests, for example, of racially motivated violent extremists who are what you would categorize as white supremacists, last year was almost triple the number it was in my first year as director,” Wray testified in early March. “And when it comes to anarchist, violent extremists … that number has also grown over the course of my tenure. Last year, I think we had more arrests of anarchist violent extremists than in the prior three years combined.”