The Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement partners that there are potential threats to the public and members of the Supreme Court in response to the national abortion debate, including threats of burning down or storming the US Supreme Court and murdering justices and their clerks, members of Congress and lawful demonstrators.
A DHS memo warns that “domestic violence extremists and criminal actors have adopted narratives surrounding abortion rights to encourage violence, likely increasing the threat to government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities and ideological opponents.”
Intelligence officials believe people “across a broad range of ideologies are attempting to justify and inspire attacks against abortion-related targets and ideological opponents at lawful protests.”
“We assess that the broader ideological spectrum of potential DVEs (domestic violent extremists) linked to recent abortion-related threats likely seek to target a range of individuals and entities,” the officials wrote in the memo, which was first reported by Axios. “Historically, violent acts related to this issue were primarily committed by abortion-related violent extremists that opposed abortion rights. Going forward, grievances related to restricting abortion access could fuel violence by pro-choice abortion-related violent extremists and other DVEs.”
The memo illustrates the heightened environment, and says Supreme Court police have noticed a major uptick in social media threats of violence, with some currently under investigation. Some of those threats have been directed at the Supreme Court justices and the building.
One example flagged by DHS officials occurred May 7 when a social media administrator encouraged other users to engage in “unrelenting violence” as an alternative to counterprotest.
The National Capitol Region Threat Intelligence Consortium has identified and forwarded more than two dozen threats to relevant agencies for further investigation.
The memo also points to a threat first reported by CNN earlier this month in which Capitol Police about a threat against an religious abortion-rights protest. Officials have been monitoring an uptick in social media chatter related to the leaked abortion ruling showing the Supreme Court will likely strike down federally protected access to abortion. Days after the leaked draft appeared in Politico, officials erected an eight-foot non-scalable fence around the Supreme Court building.
Federal officials have been warning for more than a year that America remains in a heightened threat environment driven by political ideologies and disinformation. The memo also shows that since July 2021, there have been at least four violent confrontations between ideological opponents at abortion-related protests in Oregon and California where people used smoke grenades, paintball guns, batons, chemical irritants and bats.
“DHS is committed to protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and other civil rights and civil liberties, including the right to peacefully protest,” a spokesperson for DHS said in a statement. “DHS is also committed to working with our partners across every level of government and the private sector to share timely information and intelligence, prevent all forms of violence, and to support law enforcement efforts to keep our communities safe.”
A former law enforcement source familiar with the process and counterterrorism planning noted that the threat facing the US today centers around foreign and domestic threat actors using high-visibility and socially divisive issues as an opportunity to call for acts of violence in the hopes that individuals will act upon them.
“Already we are seeing foreign and domestic threat actors call for violence directed at SCOTUS, clerks, health care providers, and those who are advocating on both sides of the issue,” the source said.
“These threats need to be taken very seriously and law enforcement needs to ensure that any local threat is fully investigated and facilities are fully protected,” the source said.
Further violence associated with abortion rights has happened before. At least 10 murders have been committed by anti-abortion rights extremists, as well as dozens of bombings and arsons targeting abortion providers and facilities, have occurred in the years following the Roe v. Wade decision, the memo says.
In 2021, several arson attacks targeted reproductive health care facilities while violent threats were directed at facilities, doctors, and patients, according to the memo.
Security bolstered in DC
Law enforcement and law makers around Washington have bolstered security surrounding the Justices and abortion-related protests. The Metropolitan Police Department has activated its Civil Disturbance Unit through May 20, and the US Marshals has said the agency is assisting Supreme Court police.
Last week, Republicans in Congress and governors’ mansions called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce a 1950 federal law that makes it illegal to hold protests outside the homes of judges in order to influence their decisions.
In recent weeks, protesters have held peaceful demonstrations outside the homes of multiple conservative Supreme Court justices. In a statement on May 11, a Justice Department spokesperson said Garland was continuing to be briefed on the “security matters related” to the justices and that he had directed the US Marshals Service to provide assistance to the separate police agency that provides security to the Supreme Court.
The statement came as Republicans ramped up pressure on Garland to enforce the law and as appropriateness of the protests have split Democrats, who are hoping the outrage over an expected Supreme Court decision gutting abortion rights will boost them in the midterms.
The White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have declined to condemn protests outside justices’ homes as long as they stay peaceful, while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin called them “reprehensible” on Thursday. The Senate has also approved a new security package for justices and their families, introduced by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. The bill’s prospects in the House are unclear.