The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the U.S. Capitol Police issued a rare joint report warning of lone wolf terror attacks in the lead-up to and after the midterm elections, by individuals radicalized by election conspiracies.
The federal agencies made their grim assessment less than two weeks before the contentious midterms are set to take place.
In the joint bulletin, released Friday, the federal law enforcement agencies wrote that the “most plausible” domestic extremism threat during the midterms is “posed by lone offenders who leverage election-related issues to justify violence.” They drew their conclusions in part from the fact that “enduring perceptions of election fraud related to the 2020 general election” continues to radicalize domestic extremists.
Potential targets, they said, could include candidates running for office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial or religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents, according to the report.
“Following the 2022 midterm election, perceptions of election-related fraud and dissatisfaction with electoral outcomes likely will result in heightened threats of violence against a broad range of targets―such as ideological opponents and election workers,” they wrote.
The analysis is consistent with what extremism experts have been warning about for weeks, if not months.
The report also came out on the same day that a man broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco and bludgeoned her husband with a hammer, leaving him hospitalized with a skull fracture. Authorities have not yet identified a motive, but the alleged assailant appeared to espouse a number of far-right conspiracy theories, including ones related to the U.S. election system. He told police investigators that his target was the House Speaker (who was in Washington, D.C., at the time), and he hoped to take her hostage—and possibly break her kneecaps to demonstrate to other members of Congress that “there are consequences.”
The attack on the Pelosi residence comes alongside a dramatic surge in threats against members of Congress overall. In their report, federal agencies cite U.S. Capitol Police data showing that there were 9,600 threats against lawmakers documented in 2021—compared to 902 such cases in 2016.
Early Monday morning, a Democrat running for a state House seat in Pennsylvania said he was attacked and knocked unconscious at his home. In an interview with VICE News, he said he believed he was the target of election-related harassment. And in a statement Tuesday, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger called the attack “an alarming reminder of the dangerous threats elected officials and public figures face during today’s contentious political climate.”
Elections offices in some places have taken serious steps to boost their security measures. For example, an elections office in Flagstaff, Arizona, had bulletproof glass installed and anyone who wants to enter the building has to ring a buzzer. The walls of another office in Tallahassee, Florida, have been fortified with Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests. Poll workers elsewhere, including in some parts of Wisconsin, have undergone active shooter training ahead of the midterms this year.
Simmering conspiracy theories around ballot drop boxes (which were galvanized by the widely debunked documentary 2,000 Mules) have meanwhile inspired real-world vigilantism. In Mesa, Arizona, masked men with guns were recently seen staking out a ballot drop-box. Attorney General Merrick Garland slammed the incident as “voter intimidation.”
Meanwhile, platforms like TruthSocial, Gab, Telegram, and Patriots.win are awash in heated rhetoric surrounding the midterms. In response to a post discussing the closely-watched Senate race in Pennsylvania, one TruthSocial user wrote that it would be a “cheated election” if John Fetterman, the Democrat candidate, wins.
“Putting imbeciles in office via election fraud is cause for civil war,” they wrote. Others fantasized about how they’ll “punish” Democrats for “stealing” the election from Donald Trump in 2020, should the GOP regain control of the House. One person posted a photo of a gallows, with the caption, “I am past the point of just wanting them in prison.”