In Democracy We Trust
In July 2020, enterprising PhD candidates and a Johns Hopkins professor began aggregating predictions of unrest in the United States into a site unsubtly titled “anewcivilwar.com”. At the time, it could have been easy to dismiss the effort as a cherry-picked exercise in confirmation bias. This talk seemed reminiscent of the main themes of Russian propaganda, which gleefully predicted the imminent collapse of the United States, even as mainstream observers, such as The Atlantic, USA Today, and the FBI warned of the potential of election-related unrest.
Looking back, the events of 6 January 2021 and the subsequent alarms have awoken the American public to the dangers of extremism. These events have provided examples of radical groups inciting their followers to action, and left many wondering if additional and more extreme violence will occur in the United States.
Given our employees’ backgrounds in human intelligence and previous government experience, Nisos trusts in the ability of American intelligence and law enforcement communities to identify and disrupt significant threats to our domestic tranquility. Nevertheless, it remains possible that episodic political violence could occur as our nation transitions to a new democratically-elected government.
So what does this unrest mean for US businesses? Nisos divides the potential for civil unrest into two spheres: physical security and reputational security.
Physical Security Vulnerabilities Businesses May Face in January 2021
Companies that are perceived to lean to one or the other side of the political divide are likely to have the greatest risk of physical violence. Perception creates reality, so even apolitical calls, justifiable on logical and moral grounds, may not be perceived as such by violent partisans. Nisos assesses that companies faced with decisions regarding platform hosting or content moderation will be at the greatest and most immediate risk of backlash.
Threats Against Business Reputations
Reputational security threats will similarly impact businesses. All companies should consider and plan for the reputational costs of employing individuals whose political affiliations, off-premise activities, or online speech may lead to media attention. Whether true or not, the public opinions of employees may be viewed as representative of their employer. As such, employers must be aware of these potential risks as well as the potential impact of online vigilantes who delight in “doxxing” their political opponents.
Evolving Legal Actions
In 2021, courts will likely be asked to address implications on civil liberties raised by companies firing employees. First Amendment protections will eventually be addressed, but in the meantime, companies are not hesitating to terminate employees and contractors who fall afoul of both left- and right-wing outrage. Individuals are also opting to resign in lieu of potential backlash and termination.
Whether enterprises are at risk of physical, reputation, or a combination of both types of harm, business leaders must stay abreast of the quickly changing security landscape in the United States and make appropriate decisions.
Nisos has compiled a basic primer on the landscape of political extremists in the United States. Our extensive experience and resources enable detailed monitoring of threat actors. If your company has particular concerns not addressed in this primer, please do not hesitate to contact us.