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FLASH ALERT: THREAT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST THOSE WORKING IN MASK/VACCINE-MANDATED PLACES IN THE US

Team: Beatrice Fratini and Mimi Aram-Walker, NORTHCOM Team; Marina Tovar, CICYBER Team

Week of: Monday, October 11, 2021


State representative cyber intimidating Jennifer Jenkins, Florida’s school board member[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT concerning credible threats to school board members, educators, medical workers, and all individuals who work in establishments or institutions that seek to impose and enforce mask and vaccine mandates in the United States (US). Various intimidation tactics have been employed, including vandalism, destruction of property, harassment, protesting in front of schools and victims’ private homes, weapon brandishing, and threats of physical violence. As more schools resume in-person classes and new state and federal vaccine/mask mandates are imposed across the nation, CTG assesses with a HIGH level of certainty that these tactics will soon evolve into violence. Due to the far-right ideology that a large part of anti-mandate extremists espouse, non-white workers are more likely to be targeted. All individuals belonging to the above-mentioned categories should be alerted by threatening behavior signs, capture evidence, and swiftly report to competent authorities.


CTG is on HIGH alert for the potential of violence evolving from credible threats that have been directed to school board members, teachers, and individuals who work in establishments where vaccine and mask mandates are enforced. This is necessary as more schools go back to on-site learning and state and local governments propose school mandates. The Biden Administration’s lower approval rates and recent decisions regarding the handling of the pandemic, including the imposition of vaccine mandates on federal workers, health care staff, and large companies, are likely to have further motivated anti-vaccine extremists towards engaging in violent behavior. Non-white workers or workers in these categories who live in areas where local and/or state government officials openly express opposition to COVID-19-related mandates may likely be subjected to more hostility. Frequent disruptions to school boards and educational processes are also likely to occur.


Introduction


Anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests have recently taken place across the US, in the states of Texas, Florida, Idaho,[2] California, Kansas, Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, and New York[3] as a result of mask and vaccine enforcement in schools and other establishments.[4] As students return to their classrooms, public institutions and school boards are requiring masks to be worn indoors as well as mandating vaccinations.[5] Parents and other individuals are actively protesting against these mandates, as they believe that they “promote inaccurate medical information about COVID-19” and the vaccines.[6] This is resulting in the cancellation or suspension of school board meetings over the decisions regarding mask and vaccine mandates, likely creating uncertainty over the safety of students and school personnel. School board meeting interferences will likely continue to occur, and protests are likely to be more frequent. The National School Board Association (NSBA) issued a letter to President Joe Biden on September 29 to request federal law enforcement and other assistance against the increasing prevalence and severity of threats, which should be considered as evolving threats of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.[7] On October 4, 2021, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland “directed the FBI and US Attorney’s offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, territorial and local law enforcement agencies to discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend.”[8]


Motivation Behind Threatening Behavior


Individuals who are skeptical of government interventions will almost certainly see the imposition of mask and vaccine mandates in schools or hospitals as an attack on civilians’ first amendment rights. Such individuals may perceive these measures as threats to their autonomy, likely prompting them to attempt to defend their freedom through protests and the rejection of public mandates. The refusal to wear masks or receive vaccinations is often due to a denial of the existence of a threat, which correlates with conservative attitudes that favor limited government intervention.[9] As public health institutions and school boards work to implement policies that can be seen as limiting freedom of choice, protests against these institutions are likely to arise. The low rates of approval of the Biden Administration and the conflicting views and directives surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to contribute to protest participation.


Individuals who subscribe to conspiracy theories that deny the existence of the pandemic are likely to participate in the protests. It is therefore very likely that both far-right extremist and conspiracy groups will use these protests to advance their political goals. The profile of the protester is likely right-wing, or pro-Trump. A small fraction of the protesters may move away from that profile but join the demonstrations to pursue their political goals and legitimize their claims.


Tactics and Threats


There is a great variety in the techniques and threats that anti-mandate extremists pose, as has been demonstrated in the incidents that have occurred in recent months. These include anti-mask mandate protests in Tennessee, where angry parents harassed mask-wearers,[10] as well as months-long intimidations towards Florida school board member Jennifer Jenkins and her family.[11] Aggravated and disorderly conduct during protests is very likely to threaten the continuation of school board meetings and the safety of the attendees. Suspension of measures taken could lead to uncertainty regarding protective measures against COVID-19 and have a direct impact on the safety of students and school personnel. Anti-maskers will likely target individuals who wear masks to create a more tense and hostile environment that would likely lead to further escalation of tensions and violence.


Some incidents have taken place at the home addresses of school board members.[12] Protesters have used strategies such as vandalism, picketing, and brandishing weapons in front of an individual’s residence to instill fear.[13] These techniques are likely to affect individual perspectives of safety, proving to be more effective and persuasive than those carried out in places where several people converge. The double strategy of public demonstrations and targeting specific individuals is highly dangerous as it affects both the safety of school board members and individuals working in vaccine-mandated environments, and the personal safety of individuals in areas outside of work, likely leading to a constant state of fear.


Possible Evolution of Threats to Violence and Death


It is very likely that the above-mentioned threatening behaviors could escalate to physical violence and, in extreme cases, death. Most opponents of vaccine and mask mandates are unlikely to engage in violent behavior and will likely limit themselves to either protesting or using intimidation tactics. However, parents who deeply believe that vaccines and masks can damage their children's health are likely to harass teachers and school board members. Due to the deeply politicized nature of vaccine mandates in the US, violent episodes - such as victims getting hit - are likely to erupt in public settings, where individuals believe that requests of wearing a mask or showing proof of vaccination to access buildings are attacks on their First Amendment rights. The most radicalized individuals, possibly deeply involved with conspiracy theories about government overreach, may likely become convinced that the only option to protect their rights as US citizens is to assassinate those they consider responsible for the imposition of COVID-19-related mandates. Possible active shooter situations are likely to occur in schools, supermarkets, hospitals, or other public areas, as anger against schools mandating vaccinations and businesses enforcing state and federal vaccine requirements on employees and clients intensifies.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends monitoring and controlling access of school guests, common areas, and entrances to prevent anti-maskers and potential threats to enter the institution. CTG advises the usage of security systems and the inclusion of security personnel or trained staff in entrances to mitigate any possible conflict. CTG urges the creation and development of threat and risk assessments to properly evaluate and assess the risk. Established school safety policies should be revisited and updated to adequately cover the current threats and provide the appropriate emergency response procedures. CTG recommends that law enforcement agencies monitor social media activity to detect possible incoming threats or activity reports related to a potential threat.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH from the hostile environment created regarding vaccine and mask mandates across the country, especially in schools. Recent episodes of threatening behavior against Florida school board member Jennifer Jenkins suggest that school board members, teachers, and all individuals working in mask and vaccine-mandated establishments are at risk of harassment, intimidation, and possible violent attacks that could lead to death.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that further anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests will arise with a possible escalation of violence as a result of feelings of frustration, anger, and rebuttal. Individuals could commit violent acts in the context of tensions between protesters and members of schools boards, or other personnel working in establishments where masks and vaccines are mandatory. Some individuals who attend the protests are likely to belong to conspiracy and extremist groups who are the most likely to commit violent acts to pursue their political goals and legitimize their claims.


The CounterTerrorism Group (CTG) produces Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.CH) intelligence to deliver critical intelligence and investigation services to pinpoint and assess regional variations of global threats. We can provide you with the safety and protection needed to feel secure. No matter if it’s just one person or an entire organization, we can handle everything for your peace of mind. We are the present, and future solution to the ever-evolving global threat landscape. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


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[1] Had Doxxing Existed in 1974 Randy Fine would have been right at home.Jennifer Jenkins filed a sworn criminal Complaint with the State Attorney’s office. “Cyber intimidation by Publication”, Twitter, October 13, 2021, https://twitter.com/DemsKeys/status/1448246401071259649

[2] School board meeting canceled as crowd protests mask mandate, CNN US, October 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/09/24/us/school-board-meeting-canceled-mask-mandate/index.html

[3] The Topic of Masks in Schools Is Polarizing Some Parents To The Point Of Violence, NPR, August 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/back-to-school-live-updates/2021/08/20/1028841279/mask-mandates-school-protests-teachers?t=1634220552686

[4] NSBA Letter to President Biden Concerning Threats to Public Schools and School Board Members, NSBA, September 2021, https://nsba.org/-/media/NSBA/File/nsba-letter-to-president-biden-concerning-threats-to-public-schools-and-school-board-members-92921.pdf

[5] Anti-Mask Parents Are Protesting at School Board Meetings Nationwide, Teen Vogue, August 2021, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/anti-mask-protests-school-boards

[6] Ibid

[7] Schools Association Asks Biden For Protection Against Violent Anti-Maskers, Forbes, September 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2021/09/30/schools-association-asks-biden-for-protection-against-violent-anti-maskers/?sh=23a986667fd6

[8] Justice Department Addresses Violent Threats Against School Officials and Teachers, Department of Justice, October 2021, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-addresses-violent-threats-against-school-officials-and-teachers

[9] “Social and economic ideologies differentially predice prejudice across the political spectrum, but social issues are most divisive,” Apa PsycNet, 2017, https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037/pspa0000074

[10] 'We will find you': Tennessee parents protest school mask mandate; people in masks heckled, NBC News, August 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/we-will-find-you-tennessee-parents-protest-school-mask-mandate-n1276601

[11] Florida school board member who supports masks says people told her to “beg for mercy”, NBC News, October 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-school-board-member-who-supports-masks-classrooms-says-people-n1281408

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

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