By Alexander Mallin and Josh Margolin – 3/25/2020
A Department of Homeland Security memo sent to law enforcement officials around the country warns that violent extremists could seek to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by carrying out attacks against the U.S.
“Violent extremists probably are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets and promote their ideologies, and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months,” according to the intelligence bulletin, compiled by the agency’s Counterterrorism Mission Center and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office.
At this time, DHS said it has “no information indicating any active plotting is underway,” but that it has observed certain extremist groups, both foreign and domestic, looking to spread misinformation about the coronavirus.
The memo, which was circulated on Monday, comes after assurances from FBI Director Chris Wray in a video message that agents would be even more vigilant in monitoring threats to the U.S. as the virus spreads.
“With all the worry and uncertainty out there, we want the public to know that there are still things they can count on: We’re here, and we’re going to stay here, to protect them, no matter what,” Wray said. “Because our criminal and national security adversaries sure aren’t going to take a day off — whether that’s for the coronavirus or, for that matter, anything else.”
Among the activities by extremist organizations cited in the DHS bulletin is a clipping from a weekly ISIS newsletter, which called for supporters to carry out attacks against overburdened health care systems in various Western countries.
Another portion of the bulletin singles out activity by white supremacists online who the DHS says have “advocated for violence against a range of targets, including critical infrastructure and faith-based and minority communities — including Asian Americans in response to the COVID outbreak.”
ABC News reported on Monday on an alert from the FBI’s New York field office that showed intelligence gathered on racist extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, that were encouraging followers who contract COVID-19 to spread the disease to Jewish people and police officers.