Department of Homeland Security officials say DHS intelligence staff have been sending multiple daily threat summaries to top officials and evaluating the credibility of specific threats to staff.
WASHINGTON – Employees of the Department of Homeland Security have been targeted by escalating online threats and harassment in their neighborhoods during the past week, officials say, with rancor over the Trump administration’s immigration policies taking a greater personal toll on the agency’s staff.
Over the weekend, a charred, headless rodent carcass was left on the doorstep of a senior DHS staffer in the Washington metro area, according to an official at the agency.
“This is the most threatening environment for DHS employees since Trump took office,” the DHS official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the harassment.
The intensity of the threats and intimidation reached a peak over the past week, the staffer said, after hecklers drove Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.
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Activists protested last Friday outside Nielsen’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, and at the residences of other senior DHS personnel. A photo of DHS press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton was posted online by one Verified Twitter user who wears a “Punch More Nazis” T-shirt in his profile, while another user posted Houlton’s home address.
“This is what Tyler looks like, just in case anyone sees him in a restaurant in DC or something,” the user wrote in a tweet that received nearly 6,000 “likes.” The user was responding to a statement by Houlton lamenting requests from several U.S. airlines that DHS stop using their flights to transport children separated from their parents by Trump’s “zero tolerance” border crackdown.
On the day of the protest outside her residence, Nielsen sent a message to U.S. border agents and immigration officers to assure them the department was taking measures to address the threats.
“I want to reiterate that the department is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of our employees from both the physical and cyber threats made against you,” she wrote. “Border security and immigration enforcement have long been difficult and dangerous callings, requiring immense personal sacrifice – challenges you bear with courage and confidence every day.”
DHS intelligence staff have been sending multiple daily threat summaries to top officials and evaluating the credibility of specific threats to staff, according to agency officials.
Some critics of the Trump administration defend the practice of targeting the DHS officials, saying they hold those individuals personally responsible for carrying out immigration policies they consider repugnant and immoral.
Claire M. Grady, acting deputy secretary at DHS, told employees over the weekend that they were facing a “heightened threat” that had come “in response to U.S. Government actions surrounding immigration.”
“This assessment is based on specific and credible threats that have been levied against certain DHS employees and a sharp increase in the overall number of general threats against DHS employees – although the veracity of each threat varies,” she wrote.
Grady said thousands of DHS employees have had their personal information published on social media. Another DHS official said activists have combed through LinkedIn and other sites for the profiles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, listing their home addresses and other information on other sites.
No DHS personnel have been physically harmed, officials said.