The United States is bracing for weeks of possible violence following Friday's Supreme Court ruling that struck down the constitutional right to abortion, sparking emotional responses from those on both sides of the debate.
In a new, updated analysis obtained by VOA, Department of Homeland Security officials warn that domestic violent extremists (DVEs) will likely seek to exploit the court ruling "to intensify violence against a wide range of targets."
"We expect violence could occur for weeks following the release, particularly as DVEs may be mobilized to respond to changes in state laws and ballot measures on abortion stemming from the decision," according to the analysis. "We base this assessment on an observed increase in violent incidents across the United States following the unauthorized disclosure in May of a draft majority opinion on the case."
The analysis notes that one network of "loosely affiliated" extremists, known as Jane’s Revenge, has called for a "night of rage," telling followers, "We need the state to feel our full wrath."
Intelligence also found more calls to violence on social media earlier this week, and officials worry that a series of arson and vandalism attacks against facilities and religious institutions tied to both sides of the abortion debate could signal an increase in violence.
"DHS will continue working with our partners across every level of government to share timely information and to support law enforcement efforts to keep our communities safe," a Homeland Security spokesperson told VOA in a statement, when asked about concerns that the high court's abortion ruling could spark more violence.
"Americans' freedom of speech and right to peacefully protest are fundamental constitutional rights. Those rights do not extend to violence and other illegal activity," the spokesperson added.
Separately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation told VOA it is working with federal, state and local law enforcement partners “to ensure the safety of our communities while respecting individuals' First Amendment rights.”
“FBI personnel are assessing intelligence to detect potential threats of violence and are in constant communication with our partners,” it said in a statement. “We ask members of the public to maintain awareness of their surroundings and immediately report any suspicious activity to law enforcement."
Earlier Friday, President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials warned Americans against resorting to violence following the abortion ruling.
"No intimidation. Violence is never acceptable," Biden said in an address to the nation in which he also accused the Supreme Court of taking away a fundamental right and "literally taking America back 150 years.”
“We must stand against violence in any form, regardless of your rationale,” Biden added. “Keep all protests peaceful, peaceful, peaceful."
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would go after those who sought to make their voices heard through violent actions.
"Peacefully expressing a view is protected by the First Amendment,” Garland said in a statement. "Violence and threats of violence are not. The Justice Department will not tolerate such acts."
Immediately following the ruling, abortion-rights opponents celebrated outside the Supreme Court, chanting "Goodbye, Roe!" to mark the court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that established the right to an abortion nearly 50 years ago.
At the same time, groups of abortion-rights supporters also gathered outside the court, chanting "My body, my choice," while carrying signs reading "Overturn Roe? Hell no!" and "Rise up for abortion rights."
Despite emotions running high among both groups, the demonstrations appeared peaceful.
U.S. officials and law enforcement agencies have been preparing for weeks for potential fallout from the court ruling on abortion.
“We have been working closely with our law enforcement partners in order to prepare for demonstrations related to the Supreme Court," the U.S. Capitol Police, which is responsible for security for Congress and the Capitol, told VOA in an email Friday.
Homeland Security Department officials have also cited the ruling as a key factor in an ever more dangerous and volatile threat environment.
"Individuals who advocate both for and against abortion have, on public forums, encouraged violence, including against government, religious and reproductive health care personnel and facilities, as well as those with opposing ideologies," DHS warned in its latest bulletin, issued this month.
There have also been concerns about the safety of the Supreme Court’s nine justices. The Justice Department announced round-the-clock security details for all justices last month.
A 26-year-old California man, Nicholas John Roske, was arrested June 8 outside the home of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Police said Roske was carrying a gun, ammunition, a knife and other items, and that he said he was planning to kill himself and Kavanaugh. Roske has been charged with attempted murder.
The U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment on specific security measures following Friday’s ruling but told VOA it was continuing to assist the court and its facilities.
“We continuously review the security measures in place and take appropriate steps to provide additional protection when it is warranted,” the service said.