White supremacists discussed using the coronavirus as a bioweapon, explosive internal document reveals
- Federal investigators have learned that white supremacists discussed plans to use the coronavirus as a bioweapon, Yahoo News reported, citing a weekly intelligence brief from a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
- "White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists have recently commented on the coronavirus stating that it is an 'OBLIGATION' to spread it should any of them contract the virus," the document said.
- White supremacists suggested targeting law enforcement and "nonwhite" people in particular.
- They floated options like leaving "saliva on door handles" at local FBI offices, spitting on elevator buttons, spreading the virus in "nonwhite neighborhoods," and being in public with their perceived enemies.
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Federal investigators have learned that white supremacists in the US discussed plans to use the coronavirus as a bioweapon, Yahoo News reported, citing a weekly intelligence brief from a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The brief covered the week of February 17 to February 24 and was written by the Federal Protective Service.
It said violent extremists "continue to make bioterrorism a popular topic among themselves," adding, "White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists have recently commented on the coronavirus stating that it is an 'OBLIGATION' to spread it should any of them contract the virus."
The World Health Organization designated the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, a pandemic on March 11. To date, the disease has infected 311,989 people around the world and killed 13,407. In the US, there are 26,747 confirmed cases and 340 people have died.
According to Yahoo News, white supremacists used the secure messaging app Telegram to discuss their plans to spread the virus and suggested targeting law enforcement agents and "nonwhite" people. But they were also open to targeting some "public places in general," the brief said.
The report said that to carry out their plans, white supremacists floated options like leaving "saliva on door handles" at local FBI offices, spitting on elevator buttons, spreading the virus in "nonwhite neighborhoods," and being in public with their perceived enemies.
Yahoo News reported that the discussion primarily took place in a Telegram channel devoted to a neo-Nazi philosophy known as "siege culture," which advocates for racial terrorism to spark a civil war.
President Donald Trump has publicly pledged to fight domestic terrorism and white nationalism. But as Insider's Nicole Einbinder reported last year, the Trump administration has actually slashed many of the government agencies responsible for fighting domestic terrorism.
That said, US law enforcement agencies have tried to shift more attention in recent months to combat the issue. Last year, for instance, the FBI zeroed in on conspiracy theories and identified them as a domestic terrorism threat.
"The FBI assesses anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity," the document said. "The FBI further assesses in some cases these conspiracy theories very likely encourage the targeting of specific people, places, and organizations, thereby increasing the likelihood of violence against these targets."
The vast majority of the conspiracy theories the FBI laid out in its threat assessment resulted in racially motivated violence by right-wing extremists.
A number of those conspiracy theories - and the outlets that publish them - have even found their way into the White House and Trump's Twitter feed.
The president declared a national emergency over the coronavirus last week but has since been criticized for continuing to downplay the virus, falsely touting cures for the disease, and blaming the mainstream media and his perceived critics for hyping the crisis up.
Trump also faced sharp backlash for describing the virus as the "Chinese virus," which public health experts say is a racist and xenophobic term.
Congress is currently working on passing a relief bill to help individuals and businesses hit hardest by the disease's spread. As of Sunday night, the Senate was closing in on a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package to shore up the faltering US economy, but there are still several outstanding issues that need to be resolved ahead of a final vote on Monday.