Neo-Nazis are encouraging critical infrastructure attacks during pandemic & unrest 

*Updated on 6-2-20 with statement from the Department of Homeland Security.*

 

As if a global pandemic and massive social upheaval aren’t enough.

Neo-Nazis are promoting attacks on critical infrastructure — like the power supply — in online discussions, according to an article today in VICE.

“The real way any of us benefit (from) this situation is to go after serious infrastructure,” a neo-Nazi post read in VICE’s article.

“If the power goes out in any of the affected cities right now on top of what’s already happening, you can expect them to really shatter,” it said.

Another post on messaging service Telegram encouraged attacking synagogues while police, firefighters and paramedics are busy dealing with protests.

“These groups really want to capitalize on civil disorder, what they view as chaos,” said research analyst Joshua Fisher-Birch with the Counter Extremism Project. “They want to manipulate that situation. They want to take advantage of it.”

Power & Water

Critical infrastructure is the systems you depend on, from water to power to fuel and food.

Attacking these systems could cause instability and more unrest — and that’s what followers of the ideology of violent accelerationism want, Fisher-Birch told Archer News.

“It’s the idea of creating chaos throughout the country with an agenda of creating a second Civil War in the U.S., or what they view as a race war, or some kind of conflict which will lead to the downfall of the U.S. government,” he said.

Brenton Tarrant, the man who killed more than 50 people in mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, believed in accelerationism, according to the Counter Terrorism Project.

Real Threats?

It’s hard to say how serious these threats are, Fisher-Birch said.

People following these ideologies have been talking about critical infrastructure attacks for some time.

“The actual chances of something like this happening are very low,” he said. “This is useful recruitment tool, a useful rhetorical tool, to inspire their members and supporters and create terror.”

Still, critical infrastructure companies and law enforcement should be aware of these discussions. In fact, law enforcement is aware and has made progress against these kinds of terror groups in the last year, according to Fisher-Birch.

A physical or cyber attack on one or two substations would not be enough to take down the country’s power grid, experts say.

Homeland Security

Archer News asked the Department of Homeland Security for its assessment of the neo-Nazi threats.

“The Department of Homeland Security takes every threat seriously and remains committed to protecting the American people,” DHS spokesperson Alexei Woltornist said in a statement.

DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — or CISA — offers information about “training, exercises, tools, and other materials focused on a wide range of attack methods (e.g., active shooter, bombing, vehicle ramming, etc.), as well as other resources relating to behavioral indicator detection,” Woltornist said to Archer News.

“CISA urges critical infrastructure owners and operators to consider implementing measures to protect facilities and personnel in order to mitigate impacts of potential attacks,” the statement added.

Physical vs. Digital Attacks

Though attackers have successfully shut off power through cyber means, neo-Nazi extremists appear to focus more on physical attacks.

Police arrested a man with neo-Nazi interests plotting to blow up a substation in New Zealand in March.

Other extremists with similar beliefs discussed blowing up destroying public water systems and a Florida nuclear facility, ProPublica reported in 2018.

 

Police search a home related to a New Zealand substation attack plot in March. Image: NSW Police

Factions

There are several factions among the accelerationists, Fisher-Birch said.

Some believe they are at war with the U.S. government.

“Trying to attack the U.S. grid would certainly help them in their objectives to make it more difficult for the U.S. government to maintain order,” he explained.

Others want white people to rise up.

“If life gets more difficult for people who they want to recruit, they actually view this as a good thing, because it might push them toward radicalizing and joining a group like theirs, a group or ideology,” he said.

Some are anti-city.

“They view attacks on infrastructure as a way to weaken cities, which they view as one of their enemies,” he said.

Terror

What can you take away from this?

Remember that terrorists want to create fear. Making threats on critical infrastructure fulfills that goal.

“At the very least, what they want to do is inspire terror,” Fisher-Birch said. “They want people to be afraid for the potential for attack. That’s a big way of how terrorism works.”

 

Main image: Substation at sunrise. Image: Serts/iStock



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