The FBI put out an alert warning members of law enforcement that racist groups are trying to infect people of color, cops and Jews with COVID-19
FBI Seal
Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

White supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremist groups are encouraging followers infected with the coronavirus to spread the deadly disease to members of law enforcement, Jews and people of color, according to the FBI.

On Thursday, the FBI’s New York office sent an alert obtained by ABC News saying that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions.”

Sent to local police departments, the alert said the groups are telling members to try to use spray bottles to spread infectious fluids to members of law enforcement, ABC News reports.

Extremist groups also told members to try to spread the disease in the Jewish community by going “any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship,” the alert says.

In an internal intelligence memo distributed in mid-February, federal law enforcement officials said they’d gathered information about white nationalists talking about trying to infect law enforcement and “nonwhite” people with the coronavirus, MSNBC reports.

“Violent extremists continue to make bioterrorism a popular topic among themselves,” according to the Federal Protective Service intelligence brief for the week of Feb. 17 through Feb. 24, which was marked for “official use only,” MSNBC reports.

“White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists have recently commented on the coronavirus stating that it is an ‘OBLIGATION’ to spread it should any of them contract the virus,” the brief continues.

The groups suggested that members leave “saliva on door handles” at FBI offices throughout the country, spit on elevator buttons and spread the virus in “nonwhite neighborhoods,” the brief states, MSNBC reports.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up forPEOPLE’s free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

Extremists are focusing on hurting others during one of the most dangerous times in the United States and the world, say experts.

“Anti-government folks in America love to target law enforcement as a symbol of America’s authority,” Don Mihalek of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation and an ABC News contributor told the outlet.

“It’s just sad that that’s their focus at a time of crisis in the nation,” he said.

“While the world faces a deadly pandemic, it’s a stark reminder that certain groups — notably the Jewish community and law enforcement — must also continue the battle against those who wish to hurt or kill them,” Michael Masters of the Secure Communities Network, which provides security for synagogues and Jewish organizations, told ABC News.

“As the economic situation remains fragile and civil society disrupted, the potential for the followers of hate to act becomes more likely … and more deadly.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.