WASHINGTON—Domestic violent extremists pose a heightened security threat in 2021, U.S. intelligence agencies said in a report released Wednesday, adding that more violence is likely due to conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election, the Covid-19 pandemic and the January breach of the U.S. Capitol.
White supremacists and militia extremists pose the most lethal threat among domestic extremists, the report said, echoing findings from academic studies and testimony last year by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director
and Department of Homeland Security officials.
The new report, prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said individuals or small cells are more likely to undertake violent acts than are organized extremist groups.
“[Domestic Violent Extremist] attackers often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization, making detection and disruption difficult,” it said.
The four-page report released on Wednesday is an unclassified summary of a longer classified document that, an ODNI official said, was distributed to the White House and Congress.
Its release comes as the Biden administration and U.S. lawmakers are grappling with how to counter violent extremists in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President
Those events led to a sprawling and continuing FBI investigation and probes by committees in Congress.
President Biden has pledged to make domestic extremism a priority and ordered the threat assessment from ODNI days after he was inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The report doesn’t propose any policy or organizational changes, but Mr. Biden and his advisers are expected to use the findings to guide their policies.
The report found that racially motivated violent extremists and “militia violent extremists” pose the most lethal threats. Racially motivated extremists are the “most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians,” ODNI said. Militia extremists are more likely to target law enforcement and government officials and buildings, it said.
White nationalist extremists have the “most persistent and concerning” links to like-minded groups abroad, the ODNI assessment said, because individuals with similar beliefs exist outside the U.S. and the groups are in frequent communication. A small number of American white nationalists have traveled abroad to meet with like-minded individuals, the assessment said.
The report defines domestic violent extremists as individuals “operating primarily in the United States without direction or inspiration from a foreign terrorist group or other foreign power.”
It was prepared under ODNI’s auspices by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI and DHS, with help from other U.S. security agencies.
The report, the latest under the Biden administration warning of domestic threats, echoes a late January bulletin from DHS, which warned domestic violent extremists could attack in the coming weeks, emboldened by the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The warning was DHS’s first-ever national terrorism bulletin about U.S. extremists.
Current and former U.S. security officials have said that countering domestic extremism is a fraught issue for the U.S. government because of strong First Amendment protections and a desire not to repeat the domestic surveillance of the 1960s and 1970s conducted by the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency. The U.S. has no generic domestic terrorism law.
The domestic threat has been rising in recent years, according to researchers and U.S. officials.
While the FBI and Department of Homeland Security previously have said that domestic extremists pose a lethal threat, Wednesday was the first time ODNI has publicly released a report on the subject. The assessment is expected to guide White House policy.
Javed Ali, a former official at several of the agencies that worked on the report, said ODNI’s involvement suggests that it may have a stronger role in this issue going forward.
Among so-called domestic violent extremists, white supremacists carried out half of all deadly attacks—eight out of 16—in 2018 and 2019, DHS has said.
Since 2018, killings by far-right extremists and white supremacists have overtaken violent Islamist killings in the U.S., according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Write to Warren P. Strobel at Warren.Strobel@wsj.com
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Source: WSJ – US News