Republican convention in Milwaukee could be ‘attractive’ target for violent extremists, federal review says


The Republican National Convention in Milwaukee next week could be an “attractive” target for violent extremists or other people looking to sow chaos by disrupting a high-profile political event, according to a threat assessment from federal agencies and Milwaukee police obtained by CNN.

This election season has seen a “resurgence of disruptive tactics targeting election symbols” that are most likely intended to “instill fear and disrupt the operations of election-related critical infrastructure facilities,” the assessment said. The report was prepared by the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, and Wisconsin state and city law enforcement officials. Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has distributed the assessment to federal, state, and local officials in recent days.

There is “no credible reporting indicating a threat” to the Republican National Convention, but “violent threat actors” may view the convention “as an attractive target due to its symbolic nature and links to the 2024 general elections,” according to the threat assessment, dated July 2.

One of the “disruptive tactics” law enforcement officials are concerned about is “swatting,” in which a caller makes a false crime report in order to launch a massive law enforcement operation on a target’s home. Since December, there have been at least four swatting incidents targeting the homes of election officials, CNN previously reported.

The Republican National Convention, taking place July 15-18, is expected to draw some 50,000 people as Republicans nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. It comes at a time of bitter partisan divisions and simmering tensions among Americans over policies including President Joe Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas.

“DHS and FBI remain concerned about the potential for violent conflict at otherwise lawful protest gatherings or gatherings related to the 2024 RNC,” the threat assessment said.

Security concerns are also expected and there will be a heavy law enforcement presence surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

The Republican convention, like other major political events, is an opportunity for foreign intelligence agencies to gather information on policy positions or people with “likely access” to political campaigns, the threat assessment said.

Political blockbuster events like the convention also remain “attractive targets” for foreign terrorists or domestic violent extremists seeking to draw attention to their ideological goals, the assessment said. There have been growing concerns among U.S. officials that an ISIS affiliate could carry out an attack on U.S. soil, CNN reported last month.

A DHS spokesperson told CNN in a statement that “the United States is in an elevated threat environment,” as the agency detailed in a September threat assessment.

“We continue to work with our partners to assess the threat environment, provide updates to the American public, and protect our homeland,” the statement said. “There is no credible reporting at this time indicating a threat to the Republican National Convention, but the event may be viewed as a target. We urge the public to remain vigilant and immediately report any suspicious activity to their local law enforcement.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has designated the Republican National Convention a National Special Security Event, or NSSE — a general designation for large events that could be targeted by criminals or terrorists, a U.S. official told CNN. Threat assessments like the one issued for the Republican National Convention are issued for all NSSE events.

“While our standard practice is not to comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI regularly shares information with our law enforcement partners to help protect the communities they serve,” the FBI said in a statement to CNN. “The FBI encourages members of the public to be vigilant and report anything they believe to be suspicious to law enforcement.”

The Secret Service referred questions about the threat assessment to Homeland Security.

CNN has also reached out to Milwaukee police for comment.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have been preparing for the Republican convention for months, identifying potential threats and tracking investigative findings. In February, according to the threat assessment, “an unidentified individual” was seen “recording/photographing” a delivery at a loading dock outside Fiserv Forum — the arena that is the main venue for the convention. Milwaukee police are investigating the incident, the assessment said.

The Secret Service last month outlined security measures for the convention, including a perimeter that will prevent protesters from gathering in a large park near the site. The announcement came after a months-long dispute between the Secret Service and the Republican Party over security measures surrounding the convention. The party had accused the agency of ignoring its concerns, while the Secret Service said Republicans were undermining efforts to keep the event safe.

According to the threat assessment, law enforcement officials around the convention are also on alert for the sending of suspicious packages, arson, destruction of property and the online release of private information of government officials.

Election offices in several states reported receiving suspicious packages surrounding the November 2023 gubernatorial and state elections.

“We also remain concerned about the potential for hoax threats to disrupt the 2024 RNC, leading to evacuations and closures of political events, and straining law enforcement resources,” the document said.

Officials warn that the large influx of out-of-state visitors could also be a boon for sex traffickers.

According to the assessment, the FBI expects victims to arrive in Wisconsin and advertise online or at locations known to offer sexual services in the weeks leading up to the events.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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