By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The United States is reacting to a very rare terror alert.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out a bulletin Wednesday, warning that domestic violent extremists may be “emboldened by the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building to target elected officials and government facilities.”

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Before Wednesday, the DHS had only sent out this type of warning about terrorists inspired by foreign states or groups. Now, security leaders say domestic extremists could become a threat over the coming months.

WCCO spoke Wednesday with Michael Paul, special agent in charge of the FBI Minneapolis Field Office.

“Well, there seems to be unfortunately a broader acceptance of the use of violence,” Paul said.

The FBI says thwarting domestic terrorism is a top priority, but it’s also a moving target.

“Over the last five years I think we’ve seen significant evolution within domestic terrorism,” Paul said. “We’ve seen a move away from group activity.”

(credit: CBS)

Paul says that shift makes his work more difficult.

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“We definitely see that lone wolf offender as the highest-risk offender,” he said. “These folks are much more difficult to detect because they don’t have as much interpersonal contact with others.”

But a lot of hate speech is protected, and a lot of crimes aren’t considered terrorism. For the FBI to consider something “domestic terrorism,” there needs to be the following:

  • Threat of force or violence
  • Criminal activity
  • Some sort of ideology

“We’d look at is it specific? Is it timely? How is it perceived by the recipient?” Paul said. “We’re careful not to target groups. We look at individual actors.”

The FBI has been asking for any information on the U.S. Capitol riots on billboards across the country. It’s a national campaign that’s brought in more than 200,000 tips, and people in the Minneapolis FBI Field Office are still helping sift through them. When the local bureau isn’t tracking specific credible threats in Minnesota, it’s preparing for the trial of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and keeping an eye on other potential triggers, such as allegations of civil rights violations or government inaction or overreach.

“There still is a lot of tension across the country, so we have to be mindful that there still is potential,” Paul said.

While the FBI uses surveillance and informants to gather intelligence, more than half of the field office’s leads and tips come from the public.

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While the FBI uses surveillance and informants to gather intelligence, more than half of the field office’s leads and tips come from the public. If you see something, or notice a shift in someone’s behavior, or if you have information on the Capitol riots, call 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324), or email tips.fbi.gov.

Erin Hassanzadeh