SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – One week after the siege of the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters and days before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has launched a newly formed task force to “combat right-wing terrorists”
The team, comprised of three deputies and one sergeant from within the Special Ops Division at the sheriff’s headquarters, will pursue leads and follow up on tips from the public, that involve threats of violence against public officials or government facilities.
“We’re focused on the right wing extremists, the terrorists, the same type of people that took action in Washington, DC,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said Wednesday.
The team will work in conjunction with the FBI and Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. The four-member task force will scale up as needed to respond to information from the public. Currently, there have been no specific threats in the South Bay, but there has been chatter that mirrors much of inflamed rhetoric in the wake of the Capitol riots.
“We’ve heard that there was going to be planned demonstrations on the 17th. We’re certainly concerned about Inaugural Day. But we’re going to be following up some of the more covert planned demonstrations or actions,” said Smith. “We’re all hearing about some kind of war that people are espousing. So we’re going to be looking at all of that, the ones that want to really be aggressive with objecting to the change of leadership.”
Ever since Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube clamped down on activity by right-wing extremists, the purged users have been searching for new digital homes.
According to Apptopia, from January 5 to 10, there has been a sharp spike in downloads of encrypted apps, and social networks with minimal oversight over posted content. Signal saw a 677% jump in app downloads, CloutHub 472%, MeWe 244%, Telegram 146%, and Rumble 144%.
Years of public outcry and pressure on mainstream tech titans to do more about policing their platforms is unlikely to let up, following the exodus to the darker corners of the web. The new alternate platforms are likely to face the same pressures to remove extremist content.
“They have the technical tools to do that, it’s not impossible,” said Ahmed Banafa, a cybersecurity expert and professor at San Jose State University. “It is your responsibility as a company, your social responsibility to protect everybody who’s using the platform. And, you don’t want to have the regulations coming knocking on your door.”
KPIX 5 Security Analyst Jeff Harp said federal agencies will likely return to tried and true methods of information gathering, now that social media landscape has been disrupted.
“So now they’re going to have to rely on good old investigative techniques, talking to human beings, trying to find out people who are cooperating with the FBI and scrubbing those tips a lot closer,” said Harp. “They will go old school.”
To report tips and suspicious activity to the task force, call the anonymous tip line at (408) 808-4431 or the operator on the public line at (408) 808-4400. Tips can also be submitted online at http://www.fbi.gov/tips or by email at SHF.SOWebsite@shf.sccgov.org.