The Department of Homeland Security warned the faith-based community ahead of Passover and Easter about an “increase in online hate speech intended to encourage violence or use” the ongoing coronavirus pandemic situation as an excuse to spread hatred.
In a letter to community members Wednesday, the department reminded houses of worship to review security plans and procedures ahead of congregant gatherings, acknowledging that many people are worshiping remotely at this time.
“[T]here has been an increase in online hate speech intended to encourage violence or use the ongoing situation as an excuse to spread hatred,” states the letter from the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, obtained by CNN.
Additionally, stressors caused by the pandemic may contribute to an individual’s decision to commit an attack or influence their target of choice, according to DHS.
The letter is aimed at providing the faith community with guidance for planning “restoration of normal operations, whenever that may be.”
Earlier this week, national security officials warned in an intelligence bulletin that extremist groups are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to incite violence and bolster racist and anti-government narratives. The bulletin — from the FBI, DHS and National Counterterrorism Center — cites threats from an array of hate groups aimed at minorities, and captures how conspiracy theories about the virus’ origins and the government’s response are likely fueling potential violence.
Officials at DHS have been grappling with how to address concerns about targeted violence amid the ongoing health crisis. The department is trying to balance resources needed to respond to Covid-19 across the country and the need to remind people to be vigilant of potential violence, said a DHS official said.
Social distancing creates opportunity to become isolated, more glued to the TV and computer and less socially engaged, the official said, adding: “No doubt we are all experiencing stress.”
Officials are concerned that someone who is already vulnerable could easily be recruited by violent ideologies or that the situation becomes precursor to them carrying out attack.
In addition, the department is aware of individuals using Covid-19 to propagate conspiracy theories, the official said.