National Security

DHS terrorism bulletin warns of focus on synagogues, HBCUs

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued one of its starkest terrorism advisory bulletins Monday on the heels of a recent hostage situation at a Texas synagogue and bomb threats at historically Black universities across the country.

The National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin again warns of the role disinformation is playing in motivating domestic extremists. But a senior DHS official said the new bulletin includes its “highest degree of specificity” with a stress on the interest in targeting religious and racial minorities.

“We’re seeing a greater level of specificity as it relates to calling for acts of violence or acts of targeted violence against certain elements of our society to include faith-based institutions, institutions of higher learning” and government entities as well as greater specificity in the types of tactics called for, another official said.

“They’re calling people to use mass shootings, using vehicles, knife attacks, and [offering] some greater specificity in the types of targets they’re urging people to target,” the official said.

“In addition to that, after the events in Colleyville, Texas, we’ve also observed an increase in calls by these same organizations for followers to replicate what occurred,” the official added. 

The official was referencing a January hostage situation in which a man held four members of Congregation Beth Israel for hours inside the synagogue, with the group ultimately escaping without being physically harmed.

A senior DHS official said the event has since sparked chatter among both white supremacists and “thought leaders across the globe who tend to be supportive of ISIS and Al Qaeda operations actually pointing to Colleyville as an example of the types of activities that lone actors or others should be taking.”

DHS officials said they have not yet seen such explicit references to the bomb threats at historically Black colleges and universities, where the FBI said it arrested six juveniles who used sophisticated methods to attempt to conceal their identities.

“This is a threat environment where people tend to look at what happened in the past. They look at the reactions of activities that were taken whether it’s shooting or bomb threats, and then we’re always concerned about people saying, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea. Let me try at copycatting it,” an official said.

DHS noted nonprofits like places of worship and universities can apply for grants to bolster their security. It’s a grant program that was already accessed by Congregation Beth Israel several years ago.

The advisory retains many elements of the prior bulletin last issued in November, including the stress on disinformation and its impact in exacerbating distrust of the government, particularly around themes like election fraud and COVID-19.

It also warns of the calls to lone actors to carry out mass acts of violence on soft targets who may be gathered in crowds.

The bulletin also noted that groups outside the U.S. are seeking to take advantage of disinformation. 

“Foreign terrorist organizations and domestic threat actors continue to amplify preexisting false or misleading narratives online to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions. Some of these actors do so to encourage unrest,” the bulletin states.

Updated at 2:55 p.m. 

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