Just a short update for Tuesday, as sites across the Web take note of a new National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin published on 7 February 2022.
The bulletin is not hard to interpret. It says the following in the first paragraph: “The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors. These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence.”
The bulletin goes on to say, “While the conditions underlying the heightened threat landscape have not significantly changed over the last year, the convergence of the following factors has increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment: (1) the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions …”
There can be no misunderstanding that “false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories” are the opening salvo of the terrorism advisory update.
In the Additional Details section, likewise, the first factor cited as contributing to a heightened threat environment is “The proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions …”
The first sub-bullet expands on that as follows: “For example, there is widespread online proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19. Grievances associated with these themes inspired violent extremist attacks during 2021.”
No “violent extremist attacks” associated with these themes are listed, but I assume the 6 January riot at the U.S. Capitol is considered one. There is no attempt to include another one.
It’s important to mention, in fact, that the bulletin offers almost no examples of the threats it warns about. The only one identified in the document is the attack on the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.
This next “factor” is enumerated further down, however: “As COVID-19 restrictions continue to decrease nationwide, increased access to commercial and government facilities and the rising number of mass gatherings could provide increased opportunities for individuals looking to commit acts of violence to do so, often with little or no warning. Meanwhile, COVID-19 mitigation measures—particularly COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates—have been used by domestic violent extremists to justify violence since 2020 and could continue to inspire these extremists to target government, healthcare, and academic institutions that they associate with those measures.”
It isn’t clear what “violence” associated with COVID-19 has been perpetrated “since 2020” by domestic violent extremists. What incidents are we talking about?
Interestingly, while searching for more on COVID-19 and violent extremism, I found a UN Security Council report on “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism.”
As indicated in the screen caps below, the report speaks of an increased terror threat due to such factors as these: “There have been increasing instances of violent anti-lockdown protests by groups that advocate anti-Government and anti-establishment ideologies. Minority groups have also been impacted by the pandemic, as online misinformation/disinformation and conspiracy theories target vulnerable communities and seek to exploit pre-existing social and communal tensions.”
So we can take comfort from the consonance of the U.S. national perspective on this matter with that of the UN.
A number of the voices analyzing this terror alert development have been critical, however. All they have done is cite, quite exactly, the language in the NTAS Bulletin, and add their own comments. They’ve retailed nothing as fact that is misleading; it’s clear that they are quoting the bulletin and then offering opinions.
I make this clear because Google has appended a warning to the search results on this topic, one I’ve seen quite a number of times now. It reads: “It looks like these results are changing quickly. If this topic is new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources.”
And you can see that the top results are all from sites that are likely to take a negative view of claims about a threat of violent domestic terrorism, allegedly related to “false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories,” specifically as they relate to COVID-19; and completely un-backed by any references to verifiable events (or even prior claims).
The impression one gets is that Google is warning users not to think for themselves, but to wait for “reliable sources” to explain why the plain wording of the NTAS Bulletin doesn’t mean what it obviously does mean. It means authorities are officially concerned that speech they deem to be false or misleading about COVID-19 is likely to promote violent domestic extremism and terrorist acts.
Here’s what’s important. Regardless of the spin put on this by the media, the NTAS Bulletin in its current form would justify treating those whose speech about COVID-19 is deemed “false or misleading” as inciters of domestic terrorism.
That wouldn’t apply solely to social media users who express everything in expletives. It would apply to professionals like virologist Dr. Robert Malone, who is maligned as having put out “misinformation” in his now-ultrafamous interview with Jor Rogan on Spotify. Or like Dr. Marty Makary, a frequent expert commentator on Fox News, who was selected in January as the top COVID-19 advisor to new Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The NTAS Bulletin’s “threat assessment” could also be used to identify media outlets that allow commentators to deviate from the Biden administration narrative on COVID-19 as collaborators in violent extremism.
All of the people and entities in these categories are conventionally pro-vaccine, by the way. They have, however, opposed (or at least questioned) mandates, condemned the withholding of therapeutic measures like monoclonal antibodies and ivermectin, and criticized the record-keeping of hospitals and other institutions on the COVID-19 pandemic.
This set of conditions, according to the mainstream media narrative (as echoed by President Biden himself), makes them “anti-vaxxers” and means they are putting out “false or misleading narratives.”
Maybe the media will talk this down and insist that the bulletin doesn’t mean what it says. But as long as it’s in effect in its published form, it can be taken to mean just what it says about the federal government’s view of what free speech and competing opinions amount to.
Meanwhile, the NTAS Bulletin update seems tailor-made for accusing any upcoming American truck convoys of acting on “false and misleading information” about COVID-19 and fomenting violent extremism – especially if one unidentified bozo (or better yet, two dozen laughably improbable “Patriot Front” dudes) can be photographed parading with a Confederate flag in the vicinity. That one yo-yo with a Confederate flag in Ottawa (suspected by many on both sides of the border of being a set-up) was all it took to cue the cries of “white supremacy” and “violence” and “domestic terrorism” from Canadian and U.S. mainstream media and left-wing politicians alike.
Feature image: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Felix Garza Jr. (Via Wikimedia Commons)