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Q&A: Homeland Security’s Terrorism Bulletin Advisory Could Have Ramifications In Shasta County

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The Department of Homeland Security issued a new National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin on May 14 in response to what it called ‘a heightened threat environment across the United States.’

The bulletin cited an increase in calls for violence against public officials and those with different ideologies. Annelise Pierce is the founder of Shasta Scout, a new investigative journalism outlet in Shasta County. In her recent article, “Homeland Security Issues Terrorism Advisory Bulletin With Implications for Shasta County” Pierce describes how the advisory appears to describe the types of rhetoric used during public meetings in the North State. NSPR’s Adia White spoke with Pierce about her article. Here are the highlights from their conversation.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On the types of language, the updated bulletin calls out

Well, the bulletin was really about a heightened threat of violence by domestic extremists that American communities nationwide are facing. The national terrorism advisory bulletin describes a pattern of ideology that motivates domestic extremists, including "false narratives, perceived grievances and a belief in conspiracy theories." Homeland Security says they've been seeing an increase in calls for violence against elected officials and politicians as well as law enforcement groups and those with different ideologies than the extremists, and this was really what motivated them to release this bulletin.

On the purpose of the bulletin

The assessment bulletin appears to be just a way for the government to inform local communities that there are concerns nationwide and that they should be increasingly aware and vigilant of similar threats in their local communities and be reporting them to relevant authorities.

On the implications for Shasta County residents

When I read the bulletin, which was posted to several of our local facebook forums, I was really astonished by how closely the threads and concerns that the advisory mentioned really directly mirrored what we have been seeing and are seeing in Shasta County right now.

We've certainly seen violent ideologies espoused at board of supervisors meetings, they've been pretty well documented online, they've been picked up by local, regional and national news. These are statements like ‘a civil war may be needed,’ that ‘violence will be used if called for, that ‘there may be the need for blood in the streets.’ Statements that it's hard to misinterpret. It's pretty clear what those statements seem to be indicating.

At the same time, we've seen folks online who threatened a local journalist, Doni Chamberlain, who writes at A News Cafe due to her coverage of these extremists. That's really concerning to those of us in the media as well as to many residents and other public officials, because the safety of the press is very closely related to the safety of the infrastructures within our country. So we've actually seen quite a few violent statements online, as well as that board of supervisors meetings, really too many to recount right now. But those are some of the highlights.

On which agencies are responsible for reporting threats like these and responding

Certainly, local law enforcement should be and they are. From what I've heard following up on complaints from citizens regarding violent threats, I think there's a bit of a difference in concern between what constitutes free speech, and what constitutes a violent threat. And that has sometimes been complex.

Ultimately, every public agency should be aware and alert right now and reporting to relevant authorities, including the local law enforcement and the FBI field offices in your area. And I think maybe even more importantly, Homeland Security has an organization called CP3 (The Center for Prevention Programs and Partnership), that helps communities organize when there are indications that their members are radicalizing to violence. And that's one of the things that the bulletin really focuses on: that if you're seeing indications that there are community members who are becoming radicalized, this is a time to act. And CP3 is there to work with communities to help them begin to address this through proven frameworks. Local agencies didn't respond when I asked if they had considered working with CP3, but it certainly seems to have indications here in Shasta County that we may want to consider doing so.

One recent instance of individuals being threatened after sharing their political opinions

We don't see anything in the bulletin about targeting individuals, although they do talk about extremists being interested in people who have different ideologies and maybe focusing on those people. We have seen this locally, we're seeing it develop right now locally.

There was an individual who became active in creating online parodies of some of the local political actions of these groups and was recently allegedly assaulted by a member of a self-described militia. It's been a big deal, picked up by regional news. There are a lot of questions about how the threats against this individual, and the actions taken against this individual, were sort of fomented by the kind of speech that has been acceptable and the kinds of signs and posters that have been acceptable at the Board of Supervisors meetings.

The Board of Supervisors in Shasta County took a look at their rules of decorum for public speech and public signage because there has been so much concern that things that have been allowed to happen in the board of supervisors chambers, may actually be contributing to increasing threats and violence that are happening locally. Particularly, this one incident of this young man who was allegedly assaulted. They did make some changes on what they're allowing in the Board of Supervisors chambers, and I think this is going to be an ongoing discussion.

Read the story, “Homeland Security Issues Terrorism Advisory Bulletin With Implications for Shasta County” at Shastascout.org.