State and local law enforcement agencies have issued raw intelligence and situational awareness reports warning of a “highly sensitive and politically charged” threat environment in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, according to several intelligence bulletins obtained by CBS News.
Officials are focused on two kinds of emerging threats: foreign state actors attempting to incite violence in the U.S., as well as domestic violent extremists trying to capitalize on the highly charged political environment.
Message boards on far-right online platforms continue to host speculative threads on the identity of the individual who leaked the draft Supreme Court opinion and feature coded language targeting places of worship, abortion clinics and the Supreme Court.
While there is currently no specific nor credible threat to the U.S. homeland identified in these warnings, police and law enforcement officers across the country remain on high alert, amid a spike in online chatter and in-person demonstrations. Some protesters have been demonstrating outside justices’ residences in the D.C. area.
“The events of the previous week, associated demonstrations and activities, continue to gain traction and nationwide attention,” The Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) indicated in its Daily Threat Summary. “Events will remain highly sensitive and politically charged in nature, near-term.”
The bulletin – dated May 11, 2022 – notes that demonstrations “may become flash points for violence and criminal activity with little to no warning.”
On Saturday, Planned Parenthood, Women’s March and other abortion rights advocates plan to rally at the Washington Monument at noon. A permit approved by the National Park Service and obtained by CBS News notes there are 17,000 participants expected to attend.
Last Wednesday, Fusion Centers nationwide convened a call – along with FBI and DHS participation – to warn of the current threat environment. Officials from FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement and DHS’ Office of Intelligence & Analysis participated.
“A lot of what we have been seeing has been implied threats without specific locations,” Mike Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association, told CBS News.
Sena led last week’s call with law enforcement partners.
“That makes it difficult when you’re trying to figure out what crosses that line in online groups,” Sena said. And people can have extreme ideologies, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s the discussion of violence, death and destruction that we’re concerned about.”
Of particular concern are foreign influence campaigns pushed by governments that have historically interfered in U.S. elections and widespread political events including Russia, China and Iran.
“Another big concern is that we’ve got large gatherings of folks potentially demonstrating,” Sena said. “All it takes – as we saw in Charlottesville – is one person with a car to cause a lot of havoc. So, there’s real concern about protecting mass gatherings of folks out there trying to exercise their first amendment rights.”
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said the attorney general “continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Justices.” Garland directed the U.S. Marshals Service to provide additional support to the Marshal of the Supreme Court to help ensure the safety of the justices, Coley also said.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security define abortion-related violent extremism as its own distinct category of domestic terrorism, similar to racially motivated extremism or domestic violent extremism, because the threat is so prevalent. According to the FBI and DHS, abortion-related violent extremism “encompasses the potentially unlawful use or threat of force or violence in furtherance of ideological agendas relating to abortion, including individuals who advocate for violence in support of either pro-life or pro-choice beliefs.”
A situational awareness bulletin issued by the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center last week said, “Given historical incidents of anti-abortion violence in the U.S. and Maryland, [recent] developments could embolden violent extremists to engage in attacks or other criminal activity targeting abortion clinic staff, patients, or clinic facilities.” It went on to say that the high court, justices and their staff, “abortion-related advocacy groups and abortion-related First Amendment-protected events could be targeted for violence.
The Central Florida Intelligence Exchange warned in a bulletin of anarchist violent extremists issuing online threats to places of worship that support anti-abortion causes. One flagged post read, “Fire to the churches!” and urges followers to use “a combative approach.”
Another Twitter account the Florida group highlighted alleged that abortion-related vandals had damaged a Catholic church in Boulder, Colorado. The tweet read, “Attack on Anti-Abortion Church in Boulder, Colorado #AnarchistAction #Boulder #MyBodyMyChoice,” and included photos showing a smashed window and spray-painted message of “F*ck the Church, F*ck the State” and “Keep Your Religion Off Our Bodies.”
In the wake of demonstrations held outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court Justices, the White House condemned “violence, threats, or vandalism” while defending the right to protest.
After activists picketed outside the Alexandria, Virginia, home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. on Monday night, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin tweeted that state police were nearby and “closely monitoring” the situation.
In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security told CBS News that it “is committed to protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and other civil rights and civil liberties, including the right to peacefully protest.”
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he doesn’t see a problem with abortion rights activists protesting at the homes of Supreme Court justices as long as demonstrations remain peaceful.
“If protests are peaceful, yes. My house — there’s protests three, four times a week outside my house,” Schumer said. “The American way to peacefully protest is OK.”
But the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, took a different view, calling protests outside justices’ homes “reprehensible.”
“Stay away from homes and families of elected officials and members of the court,” Durbin told CNN.
Senator Chuck Grassley, top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called these demonstrations “disgraceful.”
“This seems to be nothing more than an appalling attempt to intimidate the justices,” Grassley said.
The U.S. Marshals Service is assisting Supreme Court police “in response to increased security concerns stemming from the unauthorized release of the draft opinion,” it acknowledged in a statement but declined to elaborate on the security measures it’s taking.
But potential threats extend beyond those posed to individual justices.
Arson investigators are looking into a fire Sunday inside the headquarters of anti-abortion group, Wisconsin Family Action, where an individual spray-painted a message outside the building. Law enforcement is still working with fire department officials to determine an exact cause.
U.S. Capitol Police temporarily closed roads surrounding the court, last week, erecting an 8-foot fence around the Supreme Court that resembled the barrier put up after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
On Thursday, an anti-abortion activist commonly referred to as the “Pro-Life Spiderman” climbed The New York Times building in New York City and hung two anti-abortion banners, prompting backlash from the pro-abortion rights community.
Last week, a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer was injured after pro-abortion rights demonstrators began throwing rocks and bottles at officers. Nearby, a DHS Federal Protective Service police vehicle was also vandalized during this incident. DHS has since stated that it is reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding the encounter, which found FPS officers stationed half a mile from the federal building they were assigned to protect.
“DHS’s Federal Protective Service (FPS) is responsible for protecting approximately 9,000 federal buildings across the country, including individuals exercising their right to peacefully protest near federal facilities,” a DHS spokesperson told CBS News. “The department through FPS is conducting a review of this incident and the actions of any DHS personnel involved according to its standard operating procedures.”
Chris Weicher and Matt Mosk contributed to this report.