U.S. security officials are warning that violent domestic extremists pose a threat to the presidential election next month, amid what one official called a “witch’s brew” of rising political tensions, civil unrest and foreign disinformation campaigns.
FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memos say threats by domestic extremists to election-related targets will likely increase in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election.
Those warnings so far have largely remained internal. But New Jersey’s homeland security office took the unusual step of publicly highlighting the threat in a little-noticed report on its website last week.
“You have this witch’s brew that really hasn’t happened in America’s history. And if it has, it’s been decades if not centuries,” said Jared Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, which published the threat assessment.
Nationwide protests in recent months over racial justice and police brutality have been largely peaceful, but some have led to violent confrontations, including between extremist factions from left and right.
The United States is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, high unemployment and a contentious presidential election in a polarized political climate.
President Donald Trump last week declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election to Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump has sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election because of his concerns about mail-in voting, which Democrats have encouraged during the coronavirus pandemic.
Documented cases of mail-ballot fraud are extremely rare and election experts say it would be nearly impossible for foreign actors to disrupt an election by mailing out fake ballots.
A recent internal FBI bulletin warned that domestic extremists with varying ideologies would likely pose an increasing threat to government and election-related targets in the run-up to the election, according to a person familiar with it. The bulletin was first reported by Yahoo News.
An FBI spokeswoman said the agency “routinely shares information with our law enforcement partners in order to assist in protecting the communities they serve,” but declined to comment on the specific document.