By Sean Jackson
The Federal Bureau of Investigation released an assessment that outlines the potential risk of individuals who they believe operate using fringe conspiracies, stating that the theorists pose a domestic security and terrorist threat.
Yahoo News first reported on the intelligence memo, dated May 30th 2019 and released by the FBI’s Phoenix field office. It states that, “conspiracy-theory-driven domestic extremists” are currently a growing threat in the United States, and cites a number of arrests of individuals motivated by fringe beliefs.
The documents state figures such as QAnon specifically, a secretive individual or network of individuals who purports ideas such as Pizzagate – a theory about a pedophile ring being run by elites – as well as deep state actors attempting to undermine the Trump administration.
While the FBI does not specifically state that all conspiratorial beliefs are dangerous, it does cite attempted or successful violent attacks – such as the Pizzagate conspiracy leading to a man firing a rifle inside Washington, D.C. restaurant Comet Ping Pong where he believed children were being kept for nefarious purposes.
Another incident that the FBI documents include a California man who was arrested with bomb-making materials in his vehicle and had plans to “blow up a satanic temple monument” in Springfield, Illinois in an attempt to “make Americans aware of Pizzagate and the New World Order, who were dismantling society.”
The document states, “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and involve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent attacks” also highlighting that the intensity of the threat is, “the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups involving illegal, harmful, or unconstitutional activities by government officials or leading political figures.”
While the FBI points to the potential threat of the unveiling of real cover-ups, the documents do not specify which political leaders or which cover-ups they are referring to.
Theory-driven violence is not a new issue, the FBI acknowledges, but they believe that it has been exacerbated by advances in communication and technology, as well as by the increased political divide due to partisan politics leading up to the 2020 presidential elections.
The document says, “The advent of the Internet and social media has enabled promoters of conspiracy theories to produce and share greater volumes of material via online platforms that larger audiences of consumers can quickly and easily access.”
The Bureau states in the bulletin that it is intended to, “inform discussions within law enforcement as they relate to potentially harmful conspiracy theories and domestic extremism.”
David Garrow, a historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author, raises doubts about the FBI’s assumption that violence is motivated by political belief rather than mental illness. “The guy who shot up the pizza place in D.C.: Do we think of him as a right-wing activist, or insane?” Garrow stated, “I don’t think most of us would do a good job in predicting what sort of wacky information could lead someone to violence, or not lead anyone to violence. Pizzagate would be a great example of that.”
Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security as well as a former FBI agent expresses concerns with the proliferation of the extremist categories, “They like the radicalization theory because it justifies mass surveillance.” German told Yahoo News, “If we know everyone who will do harm is coming from this particular community, mass surveillance is important. We keep broadening the number of communities we include in extremist categories.”