Online extremist rhetoric is strikingly similar to the build-up to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, with increasing calls for violence linked to conspiracy theories and false narratives, Homeland Security Intelligence chief John Cohen said in an interview with CNN.
There have been online comments such as “the system is broken,” “take action into their own hands,” and “bring out the gallows,” Cohen said, offering as paraphrases of what has been observed.
While the conspiracy theories vary, there has been an ongoing narrative focused on the false premise that the presidential election was illegitimate, Cohen said. That narrative is paired with an increase in calls for violence to rectify the situation.
His comments come days after DHS warned state and local authorities about an increase in calls for violence online tied to election-related conspiracy theories.
“It’s very similar to the stuff we saw prior to January 6,” Cohen, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis senior official performing the duties of the under secretary, said. But the comments have stopped short of specific dates and threats, he noted.
Several swirling conspiracy theories point to a process that will change the results of the election.
“Concern from a law enforcement perspective is at a certain point in time, all of the conspiracy theories that point to a change occurring through process are going to sort of wear out. And the question is going to be, are people going to try to resort to violence, in or in furtherance of, that false narrative?” Cohen said.
The National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin issued in May, highlighted concerns that social media and online forums are being exploited to influence and spread violent extremism. Threats facing the US in 2021 include domestic terrorism, grievance-based violence and influence and inspiration from foreign terrorists, the bulletin says.
The terrorism bulletins allow DHS to provide the American public with an understanding of current threats to the US, replacing the post-9/11 color-coded terrorism warnings.
The current threat environment has prompted a flurry of effort to prevent a deadly or destructive incident from occurring.