A Supreme Court ruling on access to abortion in late-June or July is likely to prompt left- and right-wing extremists to mount acts of violence.
This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 25 May 2022.
Based on trends since reports emerged that the Court intends to overturn Roe v Wade, incidents in the coming weeks will probably involve leftists vandalising sites linked to the anti-abortion movement. But if the Court follows through with its decision, as it is likely, we assess that the pace and impact of such attacks would be highly likely to rise. Right-wing extremists would also probably become motivated to attack protesters, as well as abortion-linked buildings, such as medical clinics.
Isolated acts of violence
Any attacks ahead of the Court’s ruling would probably be conducted by left-wing activists. There have been at least 15 acts of violence over the issue this month, which targeted churches and the offices of anti-abortion organisations. See the map for the locations of these. Rather than an organised campaign, they seem to have involved largely emulative acts by individuals or cells. A group calling itself ‘Jane’s Revenge’ has claimed at least three of these. But we have seen little evidence of coordination between different cells, nor are there any signs that the group existed before this month.
As is typical of acts of left-wing violence, attacks against sites with perceived links to the anti-abortion movement will probably aim to be symbolic rather than cause casualties. The highest-impact incidents have involved arson against the offices of anti-abortion groups. These occurred in Madison, WI, and Keizer, OR. Both took place at night or in the early morning when no people were inside. In other recent incidents, perpetrators have defaced buildings with spray paint causing superficial damage.
Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, we assess that most left-wing extremists would still probably focus on causing property damage rather than inflicting casualties. This differs from a recent memo from the Department of Homeland Security that the US news website Axios published earlier this month. This reportedly said that law enforcement agencies were investigating threats to ‘burn down or storm the Supreme Court building and murder justices and their clerks, as well as attacks targeting places of worship and abortion clinics’.
While the DHS memo, as published by Axios, did not specify where these threats came from, based on the targets mentioned we suspect it is referring to left-wing extremists. But attacks of this kind would be a significant escalation in tactics and ambition by leftist extremists, and we have seen no other indications that such a change is imminent. Only one of the seven left-wing terrorist attacks we have recorded in the US since 2015 caused casualties (a gun attack on a group of Republican politicians in 2017).
Looming right-wing extremist threat
There have been no reported incidents of right-wing extremist violence regarding the Supreme Court’s decision over the past month. And we doubt that this will significantly change before the Court issues its ruling. There have been only a few cases of right-wing activists counter-protesting women’s rights rallies in recent weeks. In these instances, individuals appear to have acted of their own accord; we have seen only isolated calls for people to do this on the right-wing extremist online channels that we monitor.
Our monitoring suggests that right-wing extremists are still intent on carrying out acts of violence over the Roe v Wade decision, though. For example, one Telegram user suggested attacking pro-choice activists writing, ‘they are murderers. Now is the perfect opportunity to eliminate them’. This is consistent with the leaked DHS memo published by Axios which suggests that some right-wing extremists’ adoption of pro-life positions ‘may be linked to the perception of wanting to “save white children” and “fight white genocide”.’ Despite these warnings, the memo did not mention any specific plots.
Right-wing extremist violence will likely become more persistent and violent after the Court issues its ruling. In the scenario that the Court does overturn Roe v. Wade, there will almost certainly be women’s rights marches nationwide against the decision. Right-wing extremists will likely attend women’s rights marches as counterprotesters and join attend gatherings of anti-abortion activists celebrating the Court’s ruling. In the case of the former, left and right-wing extremists are likely to engage one another in violent confrontations, based on recent clashes between these groups during other social flashpoints.
Additionally, abortion clinics, or other medical centres perceived to be a part of the pro-choice movement, will likely become targeted by right-wing extremists. These individuals have carried out shootings and bombings against abortion clinics and people around them in recent years. And there is a growing fear among abortion providers that extremists will use the Court’s ruling to justify carrying out acts of vigilante violence against their buildings and staff, according to media reports.
Image: Students participate in a school walk-out and march in Manhattan to show their support for abortion rights and for gun control on 26 May 2022 in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt via Getty Images.