White Supremacists “remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland,” the Department of Homeland Security concluded in its inaugural threat assessment released on October 6, following widespread concern that President Donald Trump did not do enough to condemn such groups at a debate last week. “I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years,” acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf wrote in a letter accompanying the report, which resembles similar annual documents the Pentagon and intelligence community produce that highlight their top priorities and concerns for protecting American interests. The report categorizes white supremacist militants as part of broader domestic violent extremists or DVEs, and says spikes in the threats they pose “probably will depend on political or social issues that often mobilize other ideological actors to violence, such as immigration, environmental, and police-related policy issues.”
The conclusion comes a week after the first presidential debate on September 29, in which President Donald Trump declined multiple times to condemn white supremacy. The debate moderator asked President Trump if he would condemn white supremacists and militia groups and tell them they need to “stand down.” After pivoting to talk about left-wing groups, the President said, “Give me a name. Who would you like me to condemn?” “Proud Boys,” Biden interjected. “Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by,” Trump said. The White House initially stood by his debate response before Trump, facing continued outrage and slumping poll numbers, said days later that he does indeed condemn white supremacy. “Let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on October 1.
President Donald Trump said at the debate and stressed that he believes the most significant domestic threat comes from far-left groups, including the loosely organized ideology known as Antifa, a conclusion not supported by other agencies that assess domestic risks, including the FBI. The DHS report on October 6 identifies anti-government or anti-authority violent extremism as “another motivating force behind domestic terrorism that also poses a threat to the homeland.” “These violent extremists, sometimes influenced by anarchist ideology, have been associated with multiple plots and attacks, which included a significant uptick in violence against law enforcement and government symbols in 2020. This ideology is also exploited by hostile nation-states, which seek to promote it through disinformation campaigns and sow additional chaos and discord across American society,” the report states.
The report also assessed the widespread threats to US elections from foreign actors and emphasized that Russia is not the only source of attacks against American democracy. “While Russia has been a persistent threat by attempting to harm our democratic and election systems, it is clear China and Iran also pose threats in this space,” according to the report. In a series of tweets accompanying the report’s release, DHS Chad Wolf wrote that China represents “the most long term strategic threat to Americans, the homeland, and our way of life.” The assessment mirrors that of Trump’s other close security advisers who have downplayed the dangers Russia poses and asserted that China, which the administration blames for the spread of the coronavirus, represents the principal threat to the US.
The report claims China and Russia are leading international efforts to politicize the US response to the Coronavirus pandemic, saying, “Russian online influence actors have claimed that President Donald Trump is incapable of managing the Coronavirus pandemic and sought to exacerbate public concerns by amplifying content critical of the US response to the public health crisis and the economic downturn. “In contrast, the actors highlighted China’s and Russia’s alleged success against the COVID-19 outbreak and praised President Putin’s COVID-19 plan and Russia’s ample supply of tests.” That conclusion comes as President Donald Trump faces fresh accusations of downplaying the threat posed by the coronavirus. After leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center late on October 5, after being treated for his own Coronavirus diagnosis, President Trump said in a collection of statements, “don’t be afraid of it” and “don’t let it dominate your lives.”