US violent extremists poised to attack in 2021, says law enforcement

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies foresee serious threats by extremist groups

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo a violent mob of Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. Violent extremists motivated by political grievances and racial biases pose an “elevated threat” to the U.S. homeland, officials said Wednesday, March 17, in a unclassified intelligence report released more than two months after a violent mob of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/John Minchillo File)
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Extremists motivated by recent political and societal events pose a heightened risk of carrying out attacks in the US in 2021, according to an unclassified assessment from American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Potential attackers will be inspired by biases “against minority populations and perceived government overreach”, which “will almost certainly continue to drive” radicalisation, according to the four-page assessment released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.

The extremists will be moved by developments including "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," the agencies said. Although the report did not say so, this is a list of perceived grievances embraced by some supporters of former president Donald Trump.

The findings echoed recent remarks by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray and other US officials to Congress, including to lawmakers investigating the deadly January 6 Capitol riot. And it comes amid heightened racial tension in the US in recent years.

“The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasising across the country,” Mr Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee this month.

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks anti-Asian violence, said it had received almost 3,800 reports of hate incidents since mid-March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US and Mr Trump began calling it "the China virus". More than 500 of those attacks came in the first two months of 2021.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that “damaging rhetoric” during the Trump administration “led to perceptions of the Asian-American community that are inaccurate and unfair, and has elevated threats".

Violent extremists motivated by racial or ethnic bias are most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians, while extremists linked to militias will seek to attack law enforcement and government personnel and facilities, according to the assessment.

Extremists who promote white supremacy have “the most persistent and concerning” international connections and communications with counterparts abroad who hold similar ideological beliefs, according to the report. It said a small number of extremists in the US have travelled abroad to network with like-minded individuals.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said in a statement responding to the report that “the threat of white nationalism in particular has become a global phenomenon".

US agencies believe that the likelihood or lethality of violent acts in the coming months could be increased by escalating support from people in the US or abroad, as well as high-profile attacks that spur follow-on attacks, according to the report.