Republican convention in Milwaukee could be ‘attractive’ target for violent extremists, federal assessment 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 the Milwaukee Police Department obtained by CNN.

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

There is “no credible reporting to indicate 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 link to the 2024 general election,” says the threat assessment, which was dated July 2.

One of the “disruptive tactics” that law enforcement officials are worried about is “swatting,” in which a caller makes a bogus crime report intended to trigger a massive law enforcement response to a target’s residence. Since December, at least four swatting incidents have been aimed at the homes of elections 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 divide and simmering tensions among Americans over policies such as President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

“DHS and FBI remain concerned about the possibility of violent conflict occurring at otherwise lawful protest events or gatherings linked to the 2024 RNC,” the threat assessment says.

There are also expected to be security concerns and a large law enforcement presence around the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

The Republican convention, like other major political events, is an opportunity for foreign intelligence services to collect information on policy positions or people with “perceived access” to political campaigns, the threat assessment says.

Blockbuster political events like the convention also “remain attractive targets” for foreign terrorists or domestic violent extremists looking to draw attention to their ideological causes, according to the assessment. There are heightened concerns from US officials that an ISIS affiliate could carry out an attack on US soil, CNN reported last month.

A DHS spokesperson told CNN in a statement that “The U.S. is in a heightened threat environment,” as the agency detailed in a September threat assessment.

“We continue to work with our partners to evaluate the threat environment, provide updates to the American public, and protect our homeland,” the statement said. “There is no credible reporting to indicate a threat to the Republican National Convention at this time, but the event may be viewed as a target. We urge the public to stay vigilant and to promptly report 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 common designation for major events that might be a target of criminals or terrorists, a US 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 to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI regularly shares information with our law enforcement partners to assist in protecting 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 consider suspicious to law enforcement.”

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

CNN has also requested comment from the Milwaukee Police Department.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have spent months preparing for the Republican convention, mapping out potential threats and chasing down investigative leads. In February, according to the threat assessment, “an unidentified individual” was seen “recording/photographing” during a delivery to a loading dock at the exterior of Fiserv Forum — the arena that is the main venue for the convention. The Milwaukee Police Department is investigating the incident, the assessment says.

The Secret Service last month laid out the security measures for the convention, including a perimeter that will prevent protesters from gathering at a large park near the venue. The announcement came after a monthslong dispute between the Secret Service and the Republican Party over security measures around 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.

Around the convention, law enforcement officials are also on alert for the mailing of suspicious packages, arson, property destruction and the exposure of public officials’ private information online, according to the threat assessment.

Election offices in multiple states reported receiving suspicious packages around the November 2023 gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

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

The large influx of out-of-state visitors could also be a boon for sex traffickers, officials warned.

“The FBI anticipates victims will arrive in Wisconsin and advertise online or in locations known to offer sexual services in the weeks prior to the events,” according to the assessment.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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