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White supremacists remain deadliest US terror threat, Homeland Security report says

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf looks up during the launch of a new initiative to combat online child sexual exploitation during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

(CNN) — White supremacist extremists will remain the deadliest domestic terror threat to the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s first annual homeland threat assessment, which details a range of threats from election interference to unprecedented storms.

Since 2018, white supremacists have conducted more lethal attacks in the U.S. 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 multi-culturalism and globalization, according to the report.

“As Secretary, I am concerned about any form of violent extremism,” wrote acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. “However, I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years.”

The assessment, which comes less than a month before Election Day, was the subject of a recent whistleblower complaint alleging political influence at the department. White supremacy was at the forefront of the first presidential debate last week, when President Donald Trump declined to condemn White supremacists. He instead blamed ​what he called “antifa and the left​” for violence and told the far-right Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

Days later, he condemned “all white supremacists,” telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “I condemn the KKK, I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys.”

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Concerns about white supremacy have resonated with voters ahead of the presidential election. Most voters in a recent CNN poll (64%) say Trump has not done enough to denounce white supremacist groups, after being asked to do so at the debate. Among people of color, that rises to 76%.

Russia and the presidential election

When it comes to foreign influence in the U.S., the department concluded that Russia is the “likely primary covert influence actor and purveyor” of disinformation and misinformation.

The report found that Russia is using online operations to try to sway U.S. voters in the election. Moscow’s main objective is to undermine the U.S. electoral process and to divide and destabilize America.

Russia’s efforts included denigrating former Vice President Joe Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment.”

China and Iran are also seen as threats to U.S. elections, with China aiming to denigrate the administration and trying to promote U.S. policies aligned with its interests. Iran will continue to promote its foreign policy and attempt to increase societal tensions in the U.S., according to the report.

“The most long term strategic threat to Americans, the Homeland, and our way of life is the threat from China,” Wolf tweeted Tuesday about the assessment, which concluded that China is challenging America’s place as the world’s global and economic leader.

Last month, DHS whistleblower Brian Murphy, who previously ran the department’s intelligence division, alleged in the complaint that top political appointees instructed career DHS officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit Trump’s agenda by downplaying Russia’s efforts to interfere in the U.S. and the threat posed by white supremacists. Murphy was reassigned amid concerns that his office gathered and disseminated intelligence on U.S. reporters.

Wolf has denied that the department tried to soften the threat.

“I think if you look at the document, Russia is mentioned somewhere in the document between 30 and 40 different times, so if we were trying to downplay Russia, we didn’t do a very good job, I would say,” he told CBS News, which first published the assessment Tuesday.

Murphy alleged he had been instructed to modify the section of the assessment on white supremacy in a “manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.”

The final threat assessment concludes: White supremacist extremists “will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”

Leaked draft versions of the report had slightly different language and placement regarding the threat.

The report also touches on the exploitation of nationwide protests by what it calls anti-government and anarchist groups. As the department developed the threat assessment, officials began to see a “new, alarming trend of exploitation of lawful protests causing violence, death, and destruction.”

A significant uptick in violence against law enforcement and government symbols in 2020 has been in part linked to an influence of anarchist ideology, according to the assessment.

During recent protests, DHS law enforcement officers were assaulted with sledgehammers, commercial grade fireworks, rocks, metal pipes and improvised explosive devices, the assessment says.

“This violence, perpetrated by anarchist extremists and detailed in numerous public statements that remain available on the DHS website, significantly threatens the Homeland by undermining officer and public safety — as well as our values and way of life,” wrote Wolf.

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