‘They’re trying to cause chaos.’ State Homeland Security office preparing for potential Election Day threats
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness is warning residents to be on the lookout for disinformation ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Officials with the office say that bad information about the election could come from hostile governments or domestic extremists. They say that this type of information can go viral in the days surrounding Election Day.
“They're trying to cause chaos, to cause people to have mistrust in our system itself - the election system,” says NJOHS Director Jared Maples.
An example of this was in mid-March, when fake text messages were sent around stating that President Donald Trump was planning on declaring martial law at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Federal officials say that those messages were pushed on Twitter by agents of the Chinese government.
“We are worried about seeing something like that. So, if a text message pops up this is not the time for our citizens to forward that along or post that to a website, which is what happened then,” Maples says.
Maples says that now is the time for New Jersey residents to think critically for themselves.
“Look at the message. Does it make sense? Try to verify it through real sources - reputable media like [News 12] or official government agencies like us and make sure that that's real information,” Maples says.
Maples says that residents should also be on the lookout for right- and left-wing groups which could try to take advantage of post-election chaos and target the police and law enforcement agencies.
Authorities say that unrest across the country has shown that extremists are operating with the philosophy, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and they say that the enemy of both right- and left-wing extremists are police officers.
NJOHS will be monitoring all types of activity on Election Day, including individual polling places and guarding against any cyber intrusion from aboard. Maples says recently uncovered operations tied to Russia and Iran do not appear to have targeted New Jersey residents.
State Homeland Security officials say the public should take the same "see something, say something" approach to possible disinformation as they do to other threats. Anyone who witnesses anything suspicious can contact the NJOHS at 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ (1-866-472-3365) or email email@example.com.