DHS reports "significant" uptick in violent threats after Supreme Court opinion leak

  • In US
  • 2022-05-18 00:53:00Z
  • By CBS News

In the wake of the Supreme Court's majority draft opinion leak, the U.S. Supreme Court Police reported a "significant increase in violent threats," including a series of social media posts directed at certain sitting justices as well as the Supreme Court building. The Department of Homeland Security said it has registered an uptick in threats against "reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities."

The threats were outlined in an intelligence bulletin the DHS issued to state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide. The memo, titled "Potential for Threats to Public Safety in Response to Abortion Debate" and dated May 13, was published by DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

The DHS said federal law enforcement agencies have opened investigations into several of the online threats.

The National Capital Region Threat Intelligence Consortium - the Washington, D.C., regional intelligence hub charged with tracking domestic terrorism threats - has referred at least 25 violent online posts to partner agencies for further investigation. According to the bulletin, some of the social media threats discussed "burning down or storming the U.S. Supreme Court and murdering Justices and their clerks, members of Congress, and lawful demonstrators."

Fencing has been up surrounding the Supreme Court of the United States complex on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Washington, D.
Fencing has been up surrounding the Supreme Court of the United States complex on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Washington, D.  

The bulletin warned of an emerging "threat to government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities and ideological opponents" and marks the first intelligence bulletin explicitly issued to state and local law enforcement regarding abortion-related extremism in the wake of the opinion draft leak.

"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 added.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its final ruling on the Mississippi abortion case next month.

Since July 2021, at least four incidents of violence occurred between "ideological opponents" at abortion-related protests in Oregon and California, where demonstrators deployed "smoke grenades, paintball guns, batons, chemical irritants, and bats, according to press reporting," the memo reads.

Historically, a Justice Department task force has registered at least 10 murders committed by pro-abortion violent extremists, as well as dozens of bombings and arsons, all targeting abortion providers and facilities. However, the Supreme Court leak could lead to threats from both pro and anti-abortion supporters.

The DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis said in its bulletin that "grievances related to restricting abortion access could fuel violence by pro-choice abortion-related violent extremists and other [domestic violent extremists.]"

Arson investigators are looking into a fire that broke out inside the headquarters of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action on May 8. Graffiti found at the scene read, "If abortions aren't safe [then] you aren't either" and included symbols "typically used by anarchist violent extremists and others to convey anti-law enforcement sentiment," according to the DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

Law enforcement officials are still working with fire department officials to determine an exact cause.

In the wake of the Supreme Court draft opinion leak, federal law enforcement agencies have identified threats as linked to racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism - the deadliest form of domestic violent extremism, according to recent assessments by the U.S. intelligence community.

The DHS analysts cited social media posts promoting violence online against demonstrators protesting outside justices' homes. According to the bulletin, one post noted that "dead activists in front of a [Supreme Court] justice house WILL kick off the boog." The shorthand refers to "Boogaloo," a common term among extremists motivated by white supremacist conspiracy theories.

Intelligence officials also assessed that certain anti-abortion narratives have been linked to known conspiracy theories such as "save white children" and "fight white genocide."

The department also warned of copycat attacks threatening abortion-related violence in its memo, citing a social media administrator on a racially/ethnically motivated extremist channel that encouraged users to engage in "unrelenting violence" as an alternative to "counter protesting," by referencing prior anti-abortion violent actors. According to the bulletin, the user wrote, "If you're pro-life but aren't prepared to follow in their footsteps you're wasting your time."

The bulletin outlined signs and indicators of abortion-related violence, intended to help local law enforcement thwart future attacks. Examples include "levying violent threats, encouraging others to commit violence, or doxing individuals to incite or enable violence against others for abortion-related motivations" as well as "pre-operational surveillance, unusual or suspicious interest in a facility, or attempts to gain unauthorized entry to government facilities, reproductive healthcare facilities, or personal residences of Supreme Court Justices."

The nationwide dispatch comes several weeks after state and local law enforcement agencies released intelligence and situational awareness reports warning of a "highly sensitive and politically charged" threat environment in the wake of the Supreme Court draft opinion leak.

Fusion Centers across the country convened a call - along with FBI and DHS - to warn of the current threat environment.

"A lot of what we have been seeing has been implied threats without specific locations," Mike Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association, told CBS News.

"That makes it difficult when you're trying to figure out what crosses that line in online groups," Sena said. "And people can have extreme ideologies, there's nothing wrong with that. But it's the discussion of violence, death and destruction that we're concerned about."

In a statement to CBS News, a DHS spokesperson said the department is "committed to protecting Americans' freedom of speech and other civil liberties, including the right to peacefully protest." The department also pledged to share intelligence with other law enforcement agencies and "the private sector."

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