Former DHS chief Napolitano: Violent domestic extremism is the ‘most serious’ threat to U.S. security

A person holds a banner referring to the Qanon conspiracy theory stands next to a man wearing a patch for the Three Percenters, an antigovernment militia group, during a far-right rally on Aug. 17, 2019 in Portland, Ore. Photo by Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

By Jerod MacDonald-Envoy | Arizona Mirror

Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that domestic violent extremism driven by political violence is the “most serious homeland security challenge we are facing today.”

“The issue of violent domestic extremism has grown and metastasized,” Napolitano, who was Arizona governor before leading DHS in the Obama administration, said during a panel discussion hosted by Protect Democracy, a non-profit that aims to “sound the alarm” on issues of authoritarianism. 

Napolitano and other speakers talked broadly about the growing issue of domestic extremist groups in the United States that have seen a boom to membership, even as the number of groups diminish. 

In Arizona, directly following Donald Trump’s electoral defeat, researchers found that the state saw a major increase in the number of people seeking out militias and conspiracy theories such as QAnon. 

Napolitano stressed Wednesday the role that social media plays in the radicalization of many people, citing testimony that Stephen Ayres gave the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection Tuesday. Ayres said once he got off social media, he was able to see through the baseless election fraud claims being spread by Donald Trump and others — claims that motivated him to storm the Capitol to block the peaceful transfer of power. 

“He has only now taken the blinders off to see that he was fed a trough of misinformation and disinformation,” Napolitano said. 

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