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27 Mar, 2020 19:42

Coronavirus-inspired terrorists are planning attacks, says DoJ report – but in a fear-charged climate, which is the real threat?

Coronavirus-inspired terrorists are planning attacks, says DoJ report – but in a fear-charged climate, which is the real threat?

The US Justice Department has warned – with scant evidence – that coronavirus is encouraging terrorists to attack. But Covid-19 is actually deadlier than terrorism, and experts warn against criminalizing its transmission.

The pandemic is accelerating the dastardly plots of terrorists, according to John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, who shared his fears – and he has a lot of them – with Politico on Friday. Demers warned that terrorists would “take advantage of” certain “windows of opportunities,” though he acknowledged that there was no overarching trend.

Some people are putting off plans, and other people are saying, ‘Well I’ve got to accelerate this because maybe all the borders will be shut down soon,’” Demers explained, covering his bases.

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The outlet pointed to two cases as proof that coronavirus was driving the terrorists kill-crazy. A Missouri man, who was (as is mostly typical for “homegrown radicals”) encouraged and surveilled by the FBI for months as he worked toward his grisly goal, was moved by the coronavirus to target a hospital rather than a church or synagogue, while a Pakistani doctor living in the US saw his alleged efforts to fight with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria thwarted by border closures.

But Demers warned there were more on the horizon, contemplating “How can I try to weaponize this virus?” and seeking “windows of opportunity” in the only remaining crowded places left in the US – hospitals. His words echoed a bizarre-sounding warning from the FBI earlier this week that “white supremacist” groups were urging their members to spread the virus “through bodily fluids and personal interactions” to cops and Jews. Notably, no proof was presented for the warning, as the hype doesn’t seem to go beyond trolling posts on 4chan. 

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For all that coronavirus + terrorism sounds like a perfect storm of fear, those following the numbers might note that the pandemic has far outstripped terrorism in its body count – and that isn’t much of a challenge, statistically speaking. Three months of coronavirus epidemic have already surpassed 15 years of terrorism in the US with regard to death toll. In fact, if one excludes the September 11 attacks – by far the deadliest terrorist event ever to take place on US soil, and a huge outlier statistically speaking – there are 388 Americans who died from terrorism between 1995 and 2016.

That’s less than a quarter of the 1,438 who have died since the epidemic appeared in the US, as of Friday.
The Justice Department’s controversial initiative just days before to charge people spreading the coronavirus with terrorism has been met with significant backlash, including from medical authorities, who warn that attempts to criminalize the transmission of the virus itself would discourage people from seeking testing and treatment.

So far, terrorists deliberately inflicting coronavirus on large numbers of people to achieve a political aim appear to exist in the mythical realm only. While isolated cases of mischief-makers coughing on hapless victims and informing them they, too, are now sick, there have been no reported incidents of organized “coronavirus terrorism.”

With rising concern that the coronavirus pandemic is being used to push through draconian “emergency measures” that have a tendency to stick around long after the emergency is over, the Justice Department’s latest coronavirus-terrorism provisions have gotten mixed reviews, building on the unease triggered by their leaked request to suspend habeas corpus and the statute of limitations last week. Raising the specter of coronavirus-motivated terrorists is a great way to manufacture consent, some pointed out.

Others were made uneasy by the continued lack of testing. How would authorities determine who was a deliberate spreader, outside of the pranksters licking toilet seats and coughing on people on social media?

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