Homeland Security issues bulletin over heightened threat environment following inauguration
By Geneva Sands, CNN
(CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued a threat bulletin due to the ongoing potential for violence in the wake of the presidential inauguration, including concerns that domestic extremists may be emboldened by the attack on the US Capitol.
Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske issued the National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin "due to a heightened threat environment across the United States," which DHS believes will persist in the weeks following the January 20 presidential inauguration.
"Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence," the bulletin reads.
Earlier this month, CNN reported that discussions were underway about raising the terrorism threat level, according to two sources familiar with the discussions at the time.
The National Terrorism Advisory System -- which replaced color-coded alerts of the Homeland Security Advisory System -- falls under the Department of Homeland Security.
The last advisory issued stemmed from an Iran-related terrorism threat to the United States last January and has since expired.
A bulletin is used to describe current developments or general trends regarding threats of terrorism. The department can also issue an "elevated" or "imminent" alert, which warns of credible or impending terrorism threats.
Wednesday's bulletin, which is set to expire in April, comes as the confirmation of Biden's pick for Homeland Security Secretary secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, is being held up in the Senate.
The bulletin reiterates several concerns about domestic extremists that the department has warned about over the past year, including anger over Covid-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results and police use of force.
Long-standing racial and ethnic tension -- including opposition to immigration -- has driven domestic violent extremist attacks in the past, including a 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed 23 people, according to the bulletin.
In addition, DHS said some domestic extremists may be emboldened by the January 6 breach of the US Capitol to target elected officials and government facilities.
DHS also warned that homegrown extremists inspired by foreign terrorist groups may remain a threat.
Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst, said Wednesday that the bulletin goes directly after the "big lie" -- the false narrative that former President Donald Trump won the election -- and those who push it. "This (bulletin) is a take no prisoners approach. And totally appropriate," she said, adding that she's never seen anything like this for domestic violent extremism.
On January 6, rioters breached the Capitol after Trump urged his supporters to fight against the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes to confirm then-President-elect Joe Biden's win.
At least 150 people have now been charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the insurrection at the Capitol, which left five people dead, according to a CNN review of court records and Justice Department announcements.
Earlier this week, the US House transmitted to the Senate an article of impeachment against Trump for inciting insurrection. After becoming the first president in history to be impeached twice, Trump faces a trial in the Senate.
"While the DHS alert said absolutely nothing new, there's value in soliciting the public's assistance in identifying and alerting authorities about suspicious activity. The watchful public will always be the best 'eyes and ears' for law enforcement," Brian Harrell, former DHS assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, said Wednesday.
Former Trump administration acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told CNN earlier this month that there are "limits" to the usefulness of the National Terrorism Advistory System bulletins. He said the primary use is for education and awareness.
In the wake of the Capitol attack, a joint bulletin from DHS, the FBI and eight other agencies warned that domestic extremists posed the most likely threat to the presidential inauguration, particularly those who believed the new administration is illegitimate.
The assessment, dated January 14, also noted that since the attack on the US Capitol, Russian, Iranian and Chinese influence actors have "seized the opportunity to amplify narratives in furtherance of their policy interest amid the presidential transition," adding that there was a lack of specific, credible information indicating that they were seeking to commit violence.
In October, DHS' first annual homeland threat assessment said that White supremacist extremists would remain the deadliest domestic terror threat to the United States. Since 2018, White supremacists have conducted more lethal attacks in the US than any other domestic extremist movement, demonstrating a "longstanding intent" to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, politicians and those they believe promote multiculturalism and globalization, according to the report.
Senate Republicans are objecting to any efforts to quickly confirm Mayorkas, further delaying his confirmation as the department grapples with national security concerns, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and Biden's immigration plans.
In confirming the GOP's plans to filibuster Biden's nominee, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill that "there's a number of problems" with Mayorkas' nomination.
While several of Biden's nominees have been confirmed after moving at a slower pace than some of his predecessors' Cabinet picks, Republicans had not previously threatened to filibuster a nominee.
Democratic lawmakers, the Biden administration, former Homeland Security secretaries and others have urged the swift confirmation of Mayorkas, arguing that it is vital for national security.
This story has been updated with additional details and background information.
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