Terrorists looking to sow fear and panic across the nation as it is weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic could strike gas stations, testing sites, supermarkets, and other areas, the federal government is warning.
Though such an attack is considered unlikely, authorities are nonetheless asking the general public to watch out for any suspicious activity.
‘Now is the time to engage community businesses and other stakeholders to encourage vigilance and awareness,’ a Department of Homeland Security official told ABC News on Friday.
The DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a nationwide notice saying ‘it is imperative that law enforcement be alert for potential individuals triggered by the pandemic to inflict further harm, and [that agencies] provide residents with information that can augment community safety and security.’
A healthcare worker in Shawnee, Kansas, administers a COVID-19 test to a local resident at a drive-in testing facility on Friday. The Department of Homeland Security is asking the public to be vigilant in case terrorists seek to strike places were people gather during the pandemic
Shoppers stand in line at a supermarket in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday
DHS said that while ‘there are currently no imminent or credible threats, there has been an increase in online hate speech intended to incite violence and/or use the ongoing situation as an excuse to inflict hate.’
The department warns that the ‘potential threat environment’ has changed as ‘public gathering areas’ during the coronavirus pandemic have come to include ‘COVID-19 mobile screening stations, gas stations, still-open houses or worship, grocery stores, and other retailers that have been approved to do business.’
Two weeks ago, federal agencies including the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center warned of a proliferation of online hate speech by conspiracy theorists who say the pandemic is a ‘government-perpetrated hoax.’
The federal government has warned against ‘conspiratorial narratives assigning blame for the pandemic to a Jewish conspiracy or China’ and that such chatter increases ‘risk of retaliatory violence against Jewish Americans and Asian Americans.’
Federal agencies also warn that white supremacists and anti-government extremists are floating conspiracy theories online whereby the pandemic could ‘hasten societal collapse’ and ‘lead to a race war.’
‘[L]aw enforcement personnel enforcing stay-at-home orders or interacting with citizens, as well as soft targets such as grocery stores, hospitals, and other essential businesses, will probably remain potential targets for [domestic terrorists] during the course of the pandemic,’ the bulletin said.
Neo-Nazis ‘plan to weaponize coronavirus’: Documents distributed by federal law enforcement reveal white supremacists want to wage germ warfare against law enforcement and non-whites by leaving saliva on door knobs at FBI offices
White supremacists discussed plans to ‘weaponize’ coronavirus by infecting non-whites and law enforcement agents through the use of spray bottles, laced items, or saliva, the federal government is alleging.
Federal investigators have reportedly been monitoring communications among white supremacist organizations through Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that has become popular among underground extremist movements.
‘Violent extremists continue to make bioterrorism a popular topic among themselves,’ according to an intelligence brief written by the Federal Protective Service.
‘White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists have recently commented on the coronavirus stating that it is an “OBLIGATION” to spread it should any of them contract the virus.’
The federal government said it is monitoring neo-Nazi chats online where extremists have talked about ‘weaponizing’ the coronavirus. The image above shows a member of the Ku Klux Klan during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in July 2017
The report, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, covered the week of February 17 – 24.
The Federal Protective Service is a law enforcement agency that operates under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.
It is an agency whose main mission is to protect buildings owned or leased by the federal government.
According to the intelligence report, the white supremacist groups ‘suggested targeting … law enforcement and minority communities, with some mention of public places in general.’
The chatter involved spreading coronavirus by leaving ‘saliva on door handles’ at local FBI offices, spitting on elevator buttons and spreading germs in ‘nonwhite neighborhoods,’ according to the document.
The document alleges that white supremacists were beginning to take the threat of a pandemic seriously even though the government kept downplaying the danger.
The federal government says that white supremacists on Telegram have been chatting about their devotion to a ‘siege culture’ inspired by neo-Nazi author James Mason.
In the 1980s, Mason wrote a series of newsletters titled ‘Siege’. The writings called for racial terrorism as a means to speed up a war that would lead to the breakdown of society, also known as ‘accelerationism’.
Mason’s work has gained in popularity among violent neo-Nazi groups like the Atomwaffen Division.
Experts who have been tracking neo-Nazi movements say there is a danger that they could try to exploit the current coronavirus crisis by conducting attacks against minorities and law enforcement.
In recent months, the federal government has been urged to conduct more aggressive surveillance of far-right movements in the wake of several mass shootings by gunmen said to have been radicalized online.
The coronavirus has infected more than 2.2 million people worldwide and killed more than 154,000.
In the United States, more than 37,300 people have died as of Friday as the number of confirmed cases surged toward 709,000.