Homeland security

DHS Keeps Crying Wolf About Domestic Extremists

Plus: Psychedelic decriminalization efforts, how cities throttle small businesses, and more…


In a February 7 bulletin, the Department of Homeland Security warned that fake news is fueling domestic extremism. The warning came complete with new jargon to describe the threat: mis-, dis-, and mal-information (the three are collectively referred to as MDM). "The primary terrorism-related threat to the United States continues to stem from lone offenders or small cells of individuals who are motivated by a range of foreign and/or domestic grievances often cultivated through the consumption of certain online content," says this latest National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, which extends through June 7.

"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," the bulletin states. "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. Mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances pose an ongoing threat to the nation."

Scary-sounding stuff! But as media entrepreneur Tom Elliott points out on Twitter, the department doesn't have the best track record with these things. By Elliott's count, this is "the 10th time in 22 months [that] the DHS has issued a warning that 'anti-government' 'domestic violent extremists' may launch a violent attack."

Last year, advisory alerts about potential domestic terrorists came in January, May, August, and November. With each terror alert lasting several months, they basically covered the whole year.

The latest DHS terrorism alert states that "while the conditions underlying the heightened threat landscape have not significantly changed over the last year," certain factors have "increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment." These factors include "the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions." Specifically, it mentions narratives about election fraud and COVID-19.

What's interesting about these warnings isn't just that DHS is falsely forecasting attacks but also that it is sowing narratives. First, that it's most assuredly "MDM" fueling social unrest and anti-government sentiment…not, you know, actual government policies and legitimate grievances with them. Second, that anti-government criticism should necessarily be viewed as suspicious and potentially dangerous.

Viewed one way, better-safe-than-sorry alerts that don't pan out do little harm. Viewed another, these broadsides—which may influence local law enforcement action and tend to get widely and uncritically amplified in the press—help to delegitimize protests against government policies by casting them as the product of a misinformed populace that should seen as threat. And just like in the heyday of post-9/11 terror alerts, they also help create an atmosphere of fear that drives support for expanded government surveillance—like the newly created domestic terrorism branch in DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

"The Department expanded its evaluation of online activity as part of its efforts to assess and prevent acts of violence," it says in its latest alert. And, as always, it instructs Americans: "If you see something, say something."


Psychedelic decriminalization bills are spreading: 


A new study from the Institute for Justice (IJ) shows how cities make starting a business stupidly expensive. The report—Barriers to Business: How Cities Can Pave a Cheaper, Faster, and Simpler Path to Entrepreneurship—looks at startup costs and processes in 20 cities. It found that opening a physical business in these cities takes an average of 45 regulatory steps and interactions with eight agencies.

"You shouldn't need a pile of cash and a law degree to start the mom-and-pop shop of your dreams," said IJ City Policy Associate Alex Montgomery, who co-authored the report. "These high price tags and burdens most harm those with the fewest resources at their disposal."

"Cities can do more to support entrepreneurs than simply providing them with technical assistance and small business resources. Cities must invest in small businesses by removing barriers that are already on the books," IJ Activism Associate Andrew Meleta, the report's other co-author, said.

Find the whole thing here.

Small biz wages rise. In other small business news, the National Federation of Independent Business reports that a record 50 percent of U.S. small business owners raised wages in January, as worker shortages persist. "With some 47% of small businesses reporting job openings last month that they could not fill, employers have been raising wages to attract skilled candidates—a trend that doesn't appear to be reversing any time soon," Bloomberg points out.


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