In the wake of several high-profile violent attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued its latest National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin regarding the continued heightened threat environment across the United States.
This is the sixth NTAS Bulletin issued by the agency since January 2021, and it replaces the current one that expired June 7. It outlines top threat factors of concern and offers resources for security professionals, law enforcement, and the public.
“As recent acts of violence in communities across the country have so tragically demonstrated, the nation remains in a heightened threat environment, and we expect that environment will become more dynamic in the coming months,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas.
“The Department of Homeland Security remains steadfast in our commitment to provide timely information and resources to the American public and our partners across every level of government, in law enforcement, and in the private sector. This includes regular engagements with stakeholders to maintain awareness about the threat environment, trainings and online resources to help communities stay safe, increased sharing of information with law enforcement partners, and millions of dollars in grant funding opportunities for communities and organizations to enhance security and advance prevention efforts.”
In the coming months, DHS expects the threat environment to become more dynamic as several high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets. These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents.
Top Threat Factors
Several recent violent attacks by lone offenders against minority communities, schools, houses of worship, and mass transit have demonstrated the dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment facing the United States:
- Individuals in online forums that routinely promulgate domestic violent extremist and conspiracy theory-related content have praised the May 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and encouraged copycat attacks. Others have seized on the event to attempt to spread disinformation and incite grievances, including claims it was a government-staged event meant to advance gun control measures.
- The suspect in the grocery store attack in Buffalo, N.Y., in May 2022 claimed he was motivated by racist, anti-Black, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, often referred to as the “great replacement” or “white genocide.” These theories claim that minorities, multiculturalists, and a ruling elite are deliberately threatening the existence of the white race. The alleged 2019 attacker at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, cited similar grievances and inspiration for the attack, and both the Buffalo and El Paso attackers indicated they were inspired by the 2019 attacker of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
- A violent attack in May 2022 in Laguna Woods, Calif., a targeted congregants of a church that serves the Taiwanese community. The attack killed one individual and wounded five others. According to the lead investigative agency, the suspect also placed Molotov cocktail-like devices around the church and secured the doors with chains and super glue.
- In April 2022, an individual wearing a gas mask threw two smoke canisters and opened fire on a New York City subway during morning rush hour, resulting in injuries to dozens of individuals. Following the shooting, a number of pro-al-Qa‘ida and ISIS users celebrated the attack, which remains under investigation.
The continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence.
- Some domestic violent extremists have expressed grievances related to their perception that the U.S. government is unwilling or unable to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and have called for violence to stem the flow of undocumented migrants to the United States. DHS assesses that there is increased risk of domestic violent extremists using changes in border security-related policies and/or enforcement mechanisms to justify violence against individuals, such as minorities and law enforcement officials involved in the enforcement of border security.
- Given a high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case about abortion rights, individuals who advocate both for and against abortion have, on public forums, encouraged violence, including against government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities, as well as those with opposing ideologies.
- As the United States enters midterm election season this year, DHS assesses that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists directed at democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events, and election workers will likely increase.
Foreign adversaries remain intent on exploiting the dynamic threat environment to sow discord, undermine U.S. democratic institutions, and promote or inspire violence by their supporters.
- Following the January 2022 hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, ISIS and al-Qa’ida supporters released statements celebrating the hostage taker for bringing attention to the issue of a federally convicted female al-Qa’ida supporter and suggested the event could serve as inspiration for future attackers. Foreign terrorist organizations will likely continue to use online platforms to attempt to inspire U.S.-based individuals to engage in violent activity.
- In April 2022, ISIS released an audio message announcing a new global campaign of attacks to “avenge” the deaths of the group’s deceased leader and spokesman. The message called on ISIS supporters to carry out knife and vehicle ramming attacks in the United States and Europe.
- The pro-al-Qa’ida Malahem Cyber Army released the third issue of its “Wolves of Manhattan” magazine in April 2022, which focused on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The magazine encouraged supporters to travel to Ukraine to acquire training and weapons to use in attacks against the West.
- Chinese, Iranian, Russian, and other foreign malign influence actors have sought to contribute to U.S. internal discord and weaken its focus and position internationally. These actors have amplified narratives that radicalized individuals have cited to justify violence, including conspiracy theories and false or misleading narratives promoting U.S. societal division. In recent months, Russia and other actors have also amplified conspiracy theories alleging U.S. responsibility for the Russia-Ukraine crisis and claiming U.S. support for bio-weapons labs abroad. Some of these actors have used these conspiracy theories to justify calls for violence against U.S. officials and institutions.
- As the U.S. 2022 mid-term elections approach, malign foreign actors could bolster their messaging to sow discord and influence U.S. audiences in keeping with practices during previous election cycles.
Response & Resources
DHS works with partners across every level of government, in the private sector, and in local communities to keep Americans safe, including through the following resources and support:
- DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continue to share timely and actionable information and intelligence with the broadest audience possible. DHS conducts recurring threat briefings with private sector and state, local, tribal, territorial, and campus partners, including to inform security planning efforts. DHS remains committed to working with partners to identify and prevent all forms of terrorism and targeted violence, and to support law enforcement efforts to keep communities safe.
- DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center released updated behavioral indicators of U.S. extremist mobilization to violence. Further, I&A’s National Threat Evaluation and Reporting Program continues to provide tools and resources for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners on preventing terrorism and targeted violence, including online suspicious activity reporting training.
- DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) works with government and private sector partners – including owners and operators of critical infrastructure, soft target facilities, and public gathering places – to enhance security and mitigate risks posed by acts of terrorism and targeted violence through its network of Protective Security Advisors and resources addressing Active Shooters, School Safety, Bombing Prevention, and Soft Targets-Crowded Places.
- DHS’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) educates and trains stakeholders on how to identify indicators of radicalization to violence, where to seek help, and the resources that are available to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. In 2021, CP3 awarded about $20 million in grants through its Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Grant Program.
- In 2021, DHS designated for the first time domestic violent extremism as a “National Priority Area” within its Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP), resulting in at least $77 million being spent on preventing, preparing for, protecting against, and responding to related threats.
- In 2022, DHS’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) provided over $250 million in funding to support target hardening and other physical security enhancements to non-profit organizations at high risk of terrorist attack.
- DHS remains focused on disinformation that threatens the security of the American people, including disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran, or other adversaries such as transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling organizations.
- SchoolSafety.gov consolidates school safety-related resources from across the government. Through this website, the K-12 academic community can also connect with school safety officials and develop school safety plans.
This NTAS Bulletin will expire on Nov. 30. DHS urged the public to report any suspicious activity or threats of violence to local law enforcement, FBI Field Offices, or a local Fusion Center.