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Illustration by Security Management

Amid the Pandemic, Mass Violence Threats Remain

With communities in lockdown and governments focused on confronting the coronavirus pandemic, authorities warn against ignoring the potential for extremism and violence during the crisis.

In Nova Scotia this weekend, a 51-year-old Canadian man went on a 12-hour shooting rampage that left 16 people dead—making it one of the worst mass killings in Canada’s history. The shooter, Gabriel Wortman, was killed during a standoff at a gas station near Halifax. While the motive behind the attack is still unknown, The Guardian notes that “with the province already in lockdown in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, police said the community would be hit hard by the attack.”

On 24 March, a 36-year-old white supremacist was killed in Missouri after FBI agents moved to arrest him for a plot to bomb a hospital treating COVID-19 patients. Investigators say the man was distressed by the government’s response to the pandemic and was motivated by racial, religious, and antigovernment sentiment, court documents revealed.

The FBI has predicted that “hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of the coronavirus disease.”

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo sent to law enforcement officials in late March warned that “violent extremists probably are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets, and promote their ideologies, and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months.”

The memo cited a weekly ISIS newsletter, which called on supporters to carry out attacks against overburdened healthcare systems in Western countries, ABC News reports.

The amount of time that adolescents and young adults—bored, out of school—are spending online during stay-at-home orders creates an environment of heightened risk for recruitment and radicalization, NPR reports.

Far-right factions in Australia are also looking to capitalize on current instability, Charles Sturt University terrorism studies expert Kristy Campion told SBS News. “What we are seeing is quite a bit of chatter online increasingly looking at this as a way to achieve ideological goals,” she said. “The COVID crisis is very much being exploited to achieve that.”

In Australia, she added, far-right extremists were using the pandemic to single out immigrants and other targets.

In 2019, The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that the current atmosphere of worldwide political polarization and upheaval offers extremists opportunities to present their views as easy alternatives to people who have soured on mainstream political choices, Security Management reported in June. Learn more about the rise of far-right extremism worldwide in “Extremist Attacks Rise as Polarization Increases.”

For more pandemic response articles and resources, visit the ASIS Disease Outbreak: Security Resources page.

How are you and your organization adjusting for COVID-19? Share your story on ASIS Connects or email us at [email protected].