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Anarchist Extremist Violence Targeting US Banks a Persistent Threat

The DHS and FBI have released an intelligence bulletin regarding the potential for anarchists to attack U.S. banks during the upcoming political conventions. According to the alert:

DHS I&A, the FBI, and DSAC assess anarchist extremists are likely to continue targeting the financial services sector based on a review of past violent actions and recent trend.† Tactically, we expect anarchist extremists to continue to exploit protests by using them as cover for many of their attacks. Anarchist extremist attacks against the sector have historically occurred most often in the Pacific Northwest, although attacks in other US urban areas are possible.

Upcoming events in 2016 could serve as platforms for opportunistic anarchist extremist violence against the financial sector—including May Day events and the presidential nominating conventions in Philadelphia and Cleveland.

I&A, the FBI, and DSAC assess anarchist extremist violent attacks against US banks during 2016 will likely be intended to destroy property, based on historical and current trends. Bank property— including stand-alone A TMs—are often perceived as easily accessible “soft” targets by attackers, who can inflict significant economic damage with non-sophisticated tactics such as arson—particularly after business hours. The use of arson as a tactic carries an inherent risk of death or serious injury.

I&A, the FBI, and DSAC assess anarchist extremists are likely to use arson during violent attacks against banking and finance targets in the coming year as this is a common tactic against the sector and has been employed in the majority of reported violent incidents since 2010. Banking and finance- related entities may also become “targets of opportunity” during the exploitation of lawful protests with rioting—to include arsons—such as those related to May Day or during spontaneous criminal actions related to police actions such as officer-involved shootings.

On 1 May 2015—May Day—suspected anarchist extremists in Seattle smashed storefront windows of major corporations—including a major multinational bank—and small businesses, according to an online communiqué.

According to a website associated with anarchism, in December 2014 and April 2015, anarchists committed criminal and violent acts alongside others in Baltimore, Maryland, and Oakland, California, during rioting related to the police-involved deaths that included breaking bank windows and destroying ATMs. In addition to the vandalism to banks, assaults against police and the looting of commercial businesses also occurred, according to media reporting and online communiqués. It is unknown how much of the criminal activity against banks and other victims were due to anarchists.

Both US and foreign anarchist extremists target banks with violence, however I&A, the FBI, and DSAC have seen no reporting indicating that US anarchist extremists are willing to adopt the more lethal tactics of their foreign counterparts—such as targeted violence against CEOs of major banks. We assess it is unlikely this attitude will change in the near term, absent dramatic developments such as the rise of anarchist extremist leaders capable of rallying members to employ lethal tactics.

I&A, the FBI, and DSAC assess anarchist extremists will likely attempt to use violence to attempt to disrupt the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) and Republican National Convention (RNC), based on their past interest in engaging in such actions; although currently we have no specific or credible reporting indicating planned violence at either event. We further assess anarchist extremists likely lack the capability to overcome the heightened security measures at convention venues and may target nearby infrastructure, including local businesses, banks, transportation systems, and law enforcement.

During the 2008 RNC in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, anarchist extremist criminal activity included significant property damage, assault on police officers, highway obstruction, and trespassing. Additionally, three anarchist extremists were convicted on charges relating to the construction of Molotov cocktails.

Anarchist extremists have historically travelled from across the country to participate in major event disruptions, such as the DNC and RNC, and they often hold training camps that include instruction on the use of criminal and violent tactics, which could be used against banks in proximity to these events.

Possible Indicators of Planned Violence

There are a number of potential behaviors and indicators of planned criminal or violent activities targeting banks. Some of these behavioral indicators may be constitutionally protected activities and should be supported by additional facts to justify increased suspicions. Possible behaviors and indicators of planned criminal or violent activity against targets, including banks, that could reasonably arouse suspicion include:

  • Reports of pre-operational surveillance of symbols of capitalism such as banks, fast food restaurants, and major department stores.
  • Reports of persons collecting sharp or heavy objects that a reasonable person could believe might be used as projectiles.
  • Possession of spray paint without a reasonable explanation.
  • Reports of individuals wearing all dark or black clothing and masks or bandanas without a reasonable explanation.
  • Possession of sharp or blunt objects such as knives, machetes, dowels, or tire irons during protests.
  • Reports of individuals acquiring materials that could be used to build improvised incendiary devices or improvised explosive devices without a reasonable explanation.
  • Reports of pilfered construction sites for potential projectiles such as bricks, rebar, or pipes.
  • Pre-staging of bricks, rocks, or debris along protest routes.
  • Planning of criminal or violent activities related to major protests on Internet chat rooms, message boards, or social networking sites.
OODA Analyst

OODA Analyst

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