The United States could face a heightened threat of domestic extremist violence for weeks from people angry at Donald Trump’s election defeat and inspired by the deadly storming of the US Capitol, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned on Wednesday.
“Long-standing racial and ethnic tension – including opposition to immigration – has driven DVE [Domestic Violent Extremist] attacks, including a 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 23 people”, DHS said in its assessment, referencing a mass shooting by a far-right extremist at a Walmart in a majority-Latino neighbourhood.
The advisory comes as Washington remains on high alert after Trump supporters occupied the US Capitol on January 6 as Congress was formally certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory. Five died in the violence.
DHS, which is responsible for public safety, also mentioned the 2020 election results, restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and police use of force as further reasons that could spur violence.
“DHS is concerned these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021 and some DVEs may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building,” the bulletin continued.
The Capitol insurrection occurred after former President Donald Trump and his allies peddled refuted claims that voter fraud cost him the election.
Trump faces an historic second impeachment over a charge of incitement after he gave a speech to supporters ahead of the riot.
White supremacist groups have posed “the most persistent and lethal threat” of violent extremism in the US in recent years, Trump’s acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told a congressional hearing in September.
However, observers have noted that federal authorities have ignored the associated risks with the white nationalist and far-right movements, even as social media posts showed plans to storm the Capitol.
Trump was widely criticised for his seeming proximity to far-right groups, infamously saying there were good people “on both sides” of the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a September debate with then opponent, now President Joe Biden.
Trump denounced all white nationalists after the comment.
Interim Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman apologised on Tuesday for failures in preparation ahead of the riot, including a failure to enforce a lockdown order and not having enough manpower.
“We knew that militia groups and white supremacists’ organisations would be attending,” Pittman said in her prepared remarks.
“We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event. We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”
DHS warned that the attack on the Capitol could inspire domestic extremists to attack other elected officials or government buildings.
Biden last week directed his administration to conduct a full assessment of the risk of domestic terrorism. The assessment will be carried out by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in coordination with the FBI and DHS, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
“The January 6th assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve,” Psaki said.
The bulletin said there was no specific and credible threat at this time.