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Political violence could intensify following Supreme Court abortion ruling, U.S. officials warn

DHS warns of violent reaction to abortion case
DHS warns of potential violence by extremists in wake of Roe v. Wade decision 04:51

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned that threats of political violence, particularly against judges and state officials, will likely intensify in light of the Supreme Court's decision to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion, according to an intelligence memo obtained by CBS News.

Domestic extremists, Homeland Security officials said in their intelligence memo, "will likely exploit" the Supreme Court's ruling to "intensify violence against a wide range of targets." Federal and state officials, and their facilities, could be "most at risk" of being targets of political violence, DHS concluded.

Public protests in response to the high court's decision could become "attractive targets" for individuals seeking to commit acts of political violence, according to the memo, which also predicted that attacks against both reproductive services and pregnancy resource facilities could escalate.

"We expect violence could occur for weeks following the release, particularly as (domestic violent extremists) may be mobilized to respond to changes in state laws and ballot measures on abortion stemming from the decision," said the memo, which was prepared for federal and local law enforcement officials by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

The Supreme Court's Republican-appointed majority on Friday morning issued an opinion overturning its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which had enshrined a woman's right to an abortion since 1973. In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the U.S. Constitution did not guarantee a right to abortion, calling Roe "egregiously wrong."

The high court's decision to reverse nearly 50 years of legal precedent will allow Republican-led states to severely restrict access to lawful abortions through a patchwork of laws, some of which went into effect immediately.

The ruling is also likely to further inflame political tensions around the issue of abortion, which has long divided Americans. Homeland Security officials on Friday noted there's been a recent uptick in threats and acts of political violence related to abortion since an early draft of the decision to overturn Roe was leaked to Politico in May.

Since May, there have been at least three arson attacks against pregnancy resource centers in New York and Oregon, and a family advocacy organization in Wisconsin, according to the DHS memo, which also highlighted two arson attacks against current or former reproductive health facilities in Washington and Wyoming over the past two months.

DHS officials said they've also recorded 11 acts of vandalism threatening violence against religious organizations "perceived as being opposed to abortion."

Earlier this month, a federal grand jury charged a California man with attempted murder after he was arrested near the Maryland home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The man, who pleaded not guilty, allegedly told detectives he was "upset" by the leaked draft of the Supreme Court's abortion decision, the Justice Department said.

Last week, Congress passed a bill to bolster security for Supreme Court justices and their immediate family members. President Biden signed the bill into law on June 16.

On Friday, Mr. Biden forcefully denounced the Supreme Court's decision to overrule Roe, saying it should galvanize Americans to vote. But he urged those planning to protest the ruling to do so peacefully.

"Violence is never acceptable," Mr. Biden said. "Threats and intimidation are not speech.  We must stand against violence in any form, regardless of your rationale."

In a statement, DHS spokesperson Angelo Fernandez echoed Mr. Biden's remarks. 

"Americans' freedom of speech and right to peacefully protest are fundamental Constitutional rights. Those rights do not extend to violence and other illegal activity," he said.

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