Extremists continue to use the coronavirus to recruit new members and execute orders.
Extremist groups are using the coronavirus as a means to mobilize troops to take out government groups and those traditionally targeted by White Supremacist’s anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic views. Through encrypted online messages, the group is sharing orders with its current members and hoping to recruit new followers.
New research suggests significant spike in individuals seeking out extremist material while under lockdown. This is likely in response to the frustrations of a tanked economy and strict social distancing mandates. Many have lost their livelihoods due to government orders and this makes it easy for White Supremacists to prey on the public.
“They are being very effective in capitalizing on the pandemic,” said Devin Burghart, who heads the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights in Seattle.
As one example of the contentious environment COVID-19 is causing, demonstrators recently gathered outside of the state capital in Lansing, Michigan, many of which were armed, to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home order. Some of the participants went to the Senate gallery and many of the senators, fearing the worst, protected themselves with bulletproof vests.
“The hostile tone that we have seen in recent days on television and in social media can permeate our society in ways we sometimes don’t fully realize or anticipate,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said back in March that extremists had been encouraging followers to conduct attacks “to incite fear and target ethnic minorities and immigrants.” A federal intelligence brief warned White supremacists discussed plans to weaponize coronavirus via “saliva,” a “spray bottle” or “laced items” after this message was discovered on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. In the conversations, the extremist groups suggested targeting law enforcement agents and “nonwhite” people with attacks designed to infect them with the coronavirus.
“Violent extremists continue to make bioterrorism a popular topic among themselves,” the brief, written by the Federal Protective Service, stated. “White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists have recently commented on the coronavirus stating that it is an ‘OBLIGATION’ to spread it should any of them contract the virus.” According to the document, the extremists “discussed a number of methods for coronavirus attacks, such as spending time in public with perceived enemies, leaving saliva on door handles at local FBI offices, spitting on elevator buttons and spreading coronavirus germs in nonwhite neighborhoods.”
“From pushing the idea that Jews created the coronavirus virus to sell vaccines to encouraging infected followers to try to spread the illness to the Jewish community and law enforcement, as the coronavirus has spread, we have observed how White supremacists, neo-Nazis and others have used this to drive their own conspiracy theories, spread disinformation and incite violence on their online platforms,” said Michael Masters, the head of Secure Communities Network. “While the world faces a deadly pandemic, it’s a stark reminder that certain groups – notably the Jewish community and law enforcement – must also continue the battle against those who wish to hurt or kill them.”
This secondary effect of the coronavirus pandemic makes it all that much more life-threatening.