Homeland Security warns about domestic extremists praising Colorado Springs suspect

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued a terror threat bulletin warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month.

“We have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker,” DHS cautioned in its latest National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin, reiterating concerns of copycat attacks, following the shooting that killed five people and injured at least 18 more.

Researchers from DHS’ Office of Intelligence & Analysis exposed similar praise from U.S. actors encouraging violence following a shooting at an LGBTQ bar in Slovakia’s capital, last month, that left two dead, highlighting the transnational nature of the threat to LGBTQ communities. According to intelligence analysts, the attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration U.S. based attackers.

“That is of concern to us as it might motivate others to carry out similar attacks,” a senior Homeland Security official told reporters Wednesday. “The LGBTQ community remains a community that is targeted for violence.”

The official stressed that it has become increasingly common for individuals espousing different strains of extremist ideologies to “co-mingle” online. “Having a racially or ethnically motivated set of violent actors look to this attack in Colorado and highlight it as something worthy of emulation — I don’t think I find it particularly surprising,” the official added.

The Colorado Springs shooting remains under investigation, the bulletin noted, with authorities still parsing the suspect’s motivation. Preliminary state charges include five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime.

The bulletin listed the following as potential targets of violence, in the months ahead:

public gatheringsfaith-based institutions
the LGBTQI+ community
racial and religious minorities
government facilities and personnel
U.S. critical infrastructure
the media
perceived ideological opponents

DHS did not cite any specific plots, but pointed to “a heightened threat environment” with “lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances.”

“In the coming months, threat actors could exploit several upcoming events to justify or commit acts of violence, including certifications related to the midterm elections, the holiday season and associated large gatherings, the marking of two years since the breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and potential sociopolitical developments connected to ideological beliefs or personal hostility,” the bulletin reads.

The latest advisory noted that while violence surrounding the November midterm elections was “isolated,” federal law enforcement remains vigilant amid heightened political tensions.

“It is noteworthy that the election period is not, in fact, over,” a senior homeland security official said. “Election activities are still underway, of course, in some states around the United States, but it is worth noting as a practical matter that we did not see widespread or substantial violence attached to the election season.”

The official added that the federal government continues to monitor for potential violence in the run-up to Georgia’s “pretty high profile” run-off next month. “The same concerns that we were focused on during the midterm elections, obviously, still pertain to the runoff,” the official added. “And that concern doesn’t evaporate on election day.”

As certifications for some elections will continue through December, some social media users could seek to justify the use of violence in response to false accusations of election fraud, according to the memo. During the election season, several elected officials, candidates and political organizations received threatening letters with suspicious powders that “while found not to be dangerous or toxic, were likely intended to target the political process,” the advisory added.

Officials also identified the break-in of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home, resulting in the assault of her husband, Paul Pelosi, as a crime “allegedly inspired by partisan grievances and conspiracy theories.”

According to the bulletin, “perceptions of government overreach” have motivated violence against not only lawmakers, but also law enforcement, with analysts highlighting the attempted breach of an FBI field office in Cincinnati last summer, following calls for “civil war” by the alleged attacker.

“You’re allowed to have extreme thoughts. You’re allowed to give voice to extreme thoughts. You’re allowed to give voice to the thoughts that many people would find inappropriate,” a senior Homeland Security official told reporters Wednesday, explaining that only the discussion, coordination or incitement of actual violence prompts the collection of intelligence.

In the wake of the arrest of an individual in New Jersey earlier this month who shared an online manifesto threatening attacks on synagogues, the senior homeland security official also noted that “the Jewish community seems particularly targeted in recent days.” According to the bulletin, 18-year old Omar Alkattoul admitted to authorities that his writing was motivated in part by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In July, DHS restarted its Faith-based Security Advisory Council to provide guidance and recommendations to Mayorkas designed to bolster the departments preparation and recovery in the case of “targeted violence or terrorism, major disasters, cyberattacks, or other threats or emergencies against places of worship, faith communities, and faith-based organization.”

The department also boosted funding to its Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) from $180 million to $250 million in funding in 2022. The pool of money aims to harden and physically secure non-profit organizations at high risk of terrorist attacks, including churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship.

A slew of “hot button” political issues including immigration and abortion continue to motivate extremists, according to senior homeland security officials.

“Potential changes in border security enforcement policy, an increase in noncitizens attempting to enter the U.S., or other immigration-related developments may heighten these calls for violence,” the bulletin reads. The warning comes as the Biden administration weighs the appeal of a federal court ruling requiring that U.S. border officials stop expelling migrants under the Trump-era Title 42 pandemic policy.

Since 2015, DHS has identified “homegrown terrorists” inspired by foreign states or terrorist groups in NTAS bulletins. Following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, DHS issued its first bulletin outlining a threat to the homeland that is wholly domestic, originating from what it terms “Domestic Violent Extremists” or DVEs.

A DHS bulletin describes current developments or trends about terrorism threats, unlike an elevated alert, which warns of a credible terrorism threat, or an imminent alert, which warns of a credible, specific and impending terrorism threat.

The Biden administration has issued more than 120 intelligence products related to domestic violent extremism, according to a senior DHS official, including seven NTAS bulletins. The latest one is set to expire on May 24, 2023.

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