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New U.S. intelligence report warns domestic terrorism poses "elevated threat"

U.S. intelligence agencies believe domestic terrorism poses an "elevated threat" to the homeland in 2021, predicting in a new joint report that social and political factors including the coronavirus pandemic and "emboldening impact of the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol" will "almost certainly" spur domestic violent extremists to engage in further violence. 

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued an unclassified summary of a joint assessment of the national security threat posed by domestic violent extremism, Wednesday.

The comprehensive threat assessment provided by ODNI, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to the White House and Congress was produced at the direction of President Biden, who solicited the report in the wake of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The full classified report – described by an ODNI official as a "fact-based analysis" that may inform strategy and policy development – was sent to White House and Congress Tuesday, according to an ODNI official.

The report arrived on the same day DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called domestic violent extremism the "greatest" and "most persistent" threat to the homeland.

"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 (domestic violent extremists) to try to engage in violence this year," reads the unclassified summary.

The report separates domestic violent extremists into different groups, including racially or ethnically motivated extremists, anti-government extremists, animal rights and environmental extremists and abortion-related extremists.

Intelligence agencies found that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and militia violent extremists presented the "most lethal threats." Racially motivated extremists were determined to be the most likely to instigate mass-casualty attacks against civilians, according to the unclassified summary. In contrast, the threat assessment found militia violent extremists typically target law enforcement and government personnel and facilities.

White supremacists built networks of support outside the U.S. in some cases, the unclassified summary revealed, adding a "small number" have travelled abroad to "network with like-minded individuals."

Social media platforms, including smaller websites and encrypted chat applications, were pinpointed as emerging tools for recruitment, planning and dissemination of materials that ultimately contribute to violent acts.

The assessment also noted that "lone offenders" or "small cells" of domestic violent extremists adhering to diverse ideologies are more likely to carry out violent attacks than organizations espousing a specific ideology.

Appearing before Congress Tuesday, Mayorkas warned that lone-wolf extremists expressing "loose affiliation" with ideologies of hate and extremism are "willing to execute on them in unlawful, violent and illegal ways."

The full classified assessment was coordinated across the intelligence community and law enforcement, according to an ODNI official, drawing from government and non-governmental organizations, as deemed appropriate.  

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, underscored in a statement the "transnational element to the threat of domestic violent extremism."

"The threat of white nationalism in particular has become a global phenomenon," he said.

Schiff called Wednesday's assessment "a good first step" but urged intelligence agencies to publicly release additional details as mandated by Congress, including, "specific information on incidents, investigations, prosecutions, analysis, prioritization, personnel and resources."

The full classified assessment was coordinated across the intelligence community and law enforcement, according to an ODNI official, drawing from government and non-governmental organizations, as deemed appropriate.  

Olivia Gazis contributed to this report. 

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