New Jersey Homeland Security officials have increased the threat level for white supremacist extremists to its highest level possible, according to a new report.
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness has boosted the threat level from white supremacy groups from moderate — where it was listed in 2019 — to high for 2020, the new report released Friday reads. The only other group to receive that dubious distinction are homegrown violent extremists.
The decision to put white supremacists at the highest possible level comes after a number of threats and attacks in 2019, including the El Paso attack that left 22 people dead and two dozen more injured. In New Jersey, a man allegedly conspired with members of a neo-Nazi network to vandalize synagogues in the Midwest. He also allegedly once sat with a machete in the parking lot of a New Jersey mall, and considered an attack on black shoppers.
Top news stories in the tri-state area, in America and around the world
There was also an increase in efforts by white supremacists to identify and recruit members in New Jersey and New York while spreading their messages of hate in 2019, the report reads. Reported incidents of white supremacists distributing their propaganda — particularly in the form of flyers in public venues in cities and on college campuses — surged to 168 since January 2019, up from just 46 in 2018.
The report said that "supporters of this ideology demonstrate the willingness and capability to carry out attacks, direct and inspire sympathizers online, and attempt to network globally." Nationwide, extremist white supremacists carried out four attacks and had at least 19 additional plots, threats of violence or weapons stockpiling incidents, according to NJOHSP's report.
Under the category of homegrown violent extremists included Basking Ridge resident Jonathan Xie, who was arrested in May 2019 after allegedly sending money abroad to Hamas militants in an effort to support the terror group. Xie, who faces terror charges, also spoke of bombing Trump Tower, spewed hatred against Jewish people and plotted an attack on the Israeli Consulate in New York.
Attacks by homegrown violent extremists remained in the high threat level for 2020, as the report cited such attacks as the killing of three sailors at a naval air station in Pensecola, Florida. The main threat for homegrown violence comes in the form of extremists providing material support or attempting to recruit new members, according to the report, shown by a sharp increase in arrests of those arrested while trying to travel overseas to kill American forces.
There were at least five people arrested in New York City in 2019 who allegedly were supporters of foreign terror groups, some of whom were planning an attack in the organization's name.
Other groups in the moderate threat level include extremists from anarchist or anti-government groups, black separatists, militia or sovereign citizens.
Well-known terror organizations like Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS were given a low level. However, ISIS' inspiration of supporters in the U.S. "makes homegrown violent extremists a consistently high threat," the report reads.
The threat level for black separatists increased due in large part to the December 2019 attacks in Jersey City, where a man and a woman opened fire inside a Jewish market and killed four people in their violent rampage before law enforcement was able to take them out. David Anderson and Francine Graham engaged in an hours-long shootout with police after the pair both expressed anti-Semitic and anti-police views on social media, while Anderson also showed support for the Black Hebrew Israelite ideology.
In New Jersey, the New Black Panther Party and the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ are the most active black extremist groups, according to the report. However, the report also said groups operating in the state are "unlikely to plot or conduct attacks" even as they spew their hateful rhetoric, as the New Black Panther Party hasn't organized a rally in the state since 2011.
"Homeland security and law enforcement professionals at all levels have taken notice of the rise in activity from white supremacist extremists," said Jared Maples, the Director of the NJOHSP, in the report. "New jersey is committed to protecting the diversity of culture and faith that shapes our great state.