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White supremacists, conspiracy theorists targeting cell towers: NYPD intelligence report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Excerpt from a January 20, 2021, New York Police Department Intelligence Bureau report, reproduced by The Intercept.

Extremist groups of Conspiracy theorists and far-right white supremacists have joined hands to target critical infrastructure and “incite fear,” a report by the New York Police Department has revealed.

According to a detailed intelligence report produced by the New York Police Department and obtained by the Intercept, cellphone towers and other critical infrastructure have become an attractive target for conspiracy theorists, especially in the weeks and months following the presidential election. 

“In recent months, white supremacist extremists, neo-Nazis, far-right Telegram groups, and online conspiracy theorists have all emphasized attacking valuable critical infrastructure targets,” said the The Intelligence Bureau report, which was marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and was dated on January 20.

They seek to "incite fear, disrupt essential services, and cause economic damage with the United States and abroad,” the report said. Blaming “the current contentious domestic political environment,” the document describes a rash of attacks, some of which involved strikingly sophisticated planning.

The report confirmed that in more than one case, they succeeded in interrupting resources for law enforcement and emergency services personnel.

According to the report, which lists several recent cases,one involved a neo-Nazi chat group whose “members strongly supported exploiting civil unrest in the United States by attacking the country’s infrastructure," while another was tied to the 5G conspiracy theory, which claims without evidence that the electromagnetic waves put out by 5G towers are harming peoples' immune systems and are responsible for the coronavirus pandemic. 

The NYPD has not publicly commented on the report, which mentions attacks in other states as well, including a bombing in Nashville, Tennessee in December.

The Intercept also obtained a document from the Department of Homeland Security that revealed three intelligence reports about vandals targeting cell towers in New York, West Virginia and Tennessee on the day of and before the insurrection on the United States Capitol in January. 

In the West Virginia case, on December 14, 2020, an individual or individuals broke into a cellphone tower ground station in Fairview, severing the tower’s main power cable and removing the primary and back-up generator batteries. The tower had provided wireless coverage throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and the damages totaled over $28,000.

In another incident, an unknown individual has reportedly sneaked into a cell tower site in Tennessee on December 19, 2020, by cutting open its perimeter fence. The individual then severed the site’s fiber-optic cables and damaged several other telecommunications components, resulting in a “significant disruption of service for approximately 12 hours.”

The third case was about a neo-Nazi chat group. One of the members of the chat group, the report adds, wanted to “pursue ‘destruction where the system won’t be able to prepare for it,’ namely through attacks on US bridges, railways and electrical grids.”

The most detailed case depicted by the report is that of Anthony Quinn Warner, who carried out the bombing in front of an AT&T building in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 25, 2020 — the largest vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Although Warner was not associated with any white supremacist group, the report refers to “initial accounts that Warner was paranoid about 5G cellular networks, an important element which may take on greater significance given the apparent target.”

Many far-right groups adhere to the “accelerationist” principle, which maintains that hastening the collapse of society will bring about political change. 

Efforts to spread white supremacist propaganda nearly doubled last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracked 5,125 cases of the distribution of hateful fliers, stickers, banners and posters. The surge in propaganda came alongside a spike in hate crimes last year, which hit the highest level in over a decade with racially motivated hate crimes topping the list. 

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