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Domestic violent extremists infiltrating abortion debate: DHS official

ABC News logo ABC News 5/17/2022
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Officials from the Department of Homeland Security warned that domestic violent extremists have been infiltrating the national abortion debate "to incite violence amongst their supporters," a senior DHS official told state and local partners on a phone call Monday afternoon, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The DHS official did not specify which side, if any, the extremists were taking.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters in January that domestic violent extremism remains one of "the greatest terrorism related threats" the U.S. faces.

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"Over the past year, we in the Department of Homeland Security have improved and strengthened our approach to combating this dynamic, evolving threat," Mayorkas said.

In this Dec. 11, 2014, file photo, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal hangs on a fence at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. © Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE In this Dec. 11, 2014, file photo, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal hangs on a fence at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. MORE: DHS plays defense over Disinformation Governance Board

That official who spoke on the call with local partners warned that as summer approaches -- and with the midterm elections in the fall -- DHS will continue to be in a "heightened security environment."

"The leaked Supreme Court opinion on abortion has already triggered an intense political and cultural debate on this topic, and it is very likely it will be an key driver that motivates domestic extremists on different ends of the ideological spectrum to engage in acts of political violence against targets whom they perceive as legitimate," Javed Ali, a former senior director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council told ABC News.

In addition to the warning from a senior DHS official on a call with state and local partners, the agency also sent out a bulletin, obtained by ABC News, that warns threats against Supreme Court Justices and members of Congress are likely to increase in the wake of the leaked draft opinion.

"The volume of violent threats targeting Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress, other public officials, clergy, healthcare officials and providers, and others associated with the abortion debate are likely to persist and may increase leading up to and following the issuing of the Court’s official ruling," the bulletin, dated May 13, said.

Additionally​, according to the bulletin, the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision "prompted a significant increase in violent threats—many made online via social media and some of which are under investigation—directed toward some US Supreme Court Justices and the Supreme Court building."

The National Capital Threat Intelligence Consortium identified at least 25 violent threats on social media that were referred to partner agencies for further investigation, the bulletin says.

"Some of these threats discussed burning down or storming the US Supreme Court and murdering Justices and their clerks, members of Congress, and lawful demonstrators."

The bulletin says individuals across a "individuals across a broad range of various DVE ideologies are attempting to justify and inspire attacks against abortion-related targets and ideological opponents at lawful protests."

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Another top DHS official warned on a phone call Sunday that not only will domestic violent extremists attempt to use the abortion debate to incite violence, they will also try to take advantage of the ongoing immigration debate, expected to heat up due to the scheduled lifting on May 23 of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health order under Title 42 and the potential for the influx of migrants along the southern border.

"We do believe that a range of individuals motivated by different ideological grievances will essentially drive an increase in the threat," one DHS official said, according to a source familiar with the call.

John Cohen, who recently departed as the former acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS, told ABC News that domestic violent extremists try to exploit political divisions.

"Domestic violent extremists develop messaging that they promote online, messaging that's intended to exacerbate the fractures in our society," Cohen now an ABC News contributor said. "So, they'll pick issues like abortion, immigration and government COVID activities and elections."

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