March 6, 2024

Hot-button healthcare issues lead to “elevated” threat from domestic extremists

Editor's Note

Divisive cultural issues such as abortion, gender-related care, and disagreements over the COVID-19 pandemic will "amplify the health care sector's visibility as a potential target for attack" by domestic extremists, according to a March 4 ABC News report on a confidential memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

The memo warned about an “escalation” in a diverse range of threats, from bombs and other forms of physical violence to harassment, intimidation, cyberattacks and doxing (public release of personal information), ABC reports. "Our society is very angry and very polarized—an increasing number of people in the US have come to believe that those who disagree are the enemy, and, that violence is an acceptable way to express their disagreement," said John Cohen, the former intelligence chief at DHS and now an ABC News contributor. "Violent extremists, terror groups, foreign intelligence services have purposely sought to exploit public policy issues being debated in the U.S. that are the most polarizing, that they believe will inspire a volatile reaction – and hopefully violent acts."

Meanwhile, candidates in the upcoming election are focusing on the very issues fueling the threat. According to ABC, the bulletin specifically cites court decisions on mail-order access to abortion medication and state legislation prohibiting gender-affirming treatment for minors. The pandemic also has amplified divisions.

Overall, the effect is to create an environment ripe for exploitation by domestic extremists and other U.S. adversaries. "Ideologically-motivated cyber actors increasingly target health care entities during periods when socio-politically divisive topics are prevalent in public discourse," the bulletin said. “Absent attacks, recurring threats of violence may still have a chilling effect” on healthcare.

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