2022 elections: Government warns of “heightened threat” to midterms, fueled by rise in domestic violent extremism

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Less than two weeks before the 2022 elections, the U.S. government is warning of a “heightened threat” to the midterm contests, fueled by a rise in domestic violent extremism, or DVE, and driven by ideological grievances and access to potential targets, according to a joint intelligence bulletin obtained by CBS News.  

“Potential targets of DVE violence include candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin, published Friday, stated. 

The bulletin was issued on the same day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was violently attacked by a man who broke into their home and demanded, “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?”

According to the memo distributed to law enforcement partners nationwide Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) predict that “violence will largely be dependent on drivers such as personalized ideological grievances and the accessibility of potential targets throughout the election cycle.” Intelligence analysts assess that the “most plausible” threat ahead of Election Day comes from “lone offenders who leverage election-related issues to justify violence,” with many individuals still amplifying false narratives of fraud that date back to the 2020 general election.  

Analysts cautioned that government officials and personnel, “including candidates in the midterm election and officials involved in administering elections,” will likely remain “attractive targets” to those motivated by debunked claims of election fraud that have spread online. U.S. Capitol Police have reported a “sharp increase” of threats against members of Congress in recent years and notably documented 9,600 direct or indirect threats in 2021 alone.  

“We assess some [domestic violent extremists] motivated by election-related grievances would likely view election-related infrastructure, personnel, and voters involved in the election process as attractive targets — including at publicly accessible locations like polling places, ballot drop-box locations, voter registration sites, campaign events, and political party offices,” the bulletin warns.

Their aim, the bulletin suggests, would be to try to discredit the elections: “DVEs could target components of the election infrastructure in hopes of swaying voting habits, undermining perceptions of the legitimacy of the voting process, or prompting a particular government reaction.” 

And it goes on to note that the places where people vote could be targeted for attacks “because they prioritize accessibility to maximize exposure to potential voters, making them vulnerable to simple, easy-to-use weapons, like firearms, vehicles, edged weapons, and incendiary devices, which DVEs have used in the past.”

“Some [domestic violent extremists], particularly anti-government and anti-authority violent extremists and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists motivated by differing perceptions of issues like government overreach, firearms regulation, and immigration policy, will potentially view social and political tensions during the upcoming midterm election as an opportunity to use or promote violence in furtherance of their ideological goals,” the bulletin noted.  

The intelligence memo went on to warn that grievances about abortion and LGBTQ+ issues “might be exacerbated in response to a greater focus on these topics prior to the election,” noting that in recent months, domestic violent extremists have “levied violent threats targeting elected officials, individuals associated with abortion or LGBTQ+ issues, and facilities, locations, and organizations perceived as taking a stance on abortion or LGBTQ+ issues.”  

The intelligence bulletin also warns that extremists might target state and local government buildings after the election, with potential targets including “officials involved in vote counting or certifications, judicial figures associated with election-related legal challenges, or private companies associated with vote counting.”

The memo continued,: “Prolonged certification processes could generate increased threats or calls for violence targeting state and local election officials because of potential perceptions of fraud surrounding the results, especially in close or highly contested elections.”

The bulletin notes that post-election violence has led to several prosecutions, including guilty pleas by two Californian extremists in May of 2022, related to plots to firebomb the Democratic party’s state headquarters in Sacramento, following the January 2021 inauguration. 

In February 2020, Gregory William Loel Timm, 27, intentionally drove his vehicle into a voter registration tent in Jacksonville, Fla., and was subsequently sentenced to 60 days in jail.  

Last June, the Department of Justice (DOJ) established the “Threats to Election Workers Task Force” in response to an uptick in threats targeting election workers.  While the task force has only delivered eight arrests and one conviction so far, as of June 2022, the Justice Department and FBI had reviewed over 1,000 communications reported as abusive, harassing, or intimidating – deeming 11% met federal criteria for further investigative action. According to the FBI’s assessment, “While many of the communications reviewed by the FBI and DOJ appear to stem from perceptions of voter fraud, the communications are not specific to any single ideology or group.”

Earlier this month, Nebraska man, Travis Ford, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for making online threats against Colorado’s top elections official, marking the first guilty plea obtained by the government task force.

The FBI has determined the majority of future threats to election workers in 2022 are “likely to occur in states or counties where recounts, audits, or public election disputes occur,” according to the bulletin.

Following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the Department of Justice has charged more than 870 individuals for alleged criminal activity at the U.S. Capitol. 

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