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Stochastic Terrorism


I recently became aware of the concept of “stochastic terrorism,” described as follows: Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.

It came to light due to some reporting on the attack against a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado.

In an incident of stochastic terrorism, the person who pulls the trigger gets the blame. He—I use the male pronoun deliberately because the triggerman is almost always male—may go to jail or even be killed during his act of violence. Meanwhile, the person or persons who have triggered the triggerman, in other words, the _actual stochastic terrorists, _often go free, protected by plausible deniability. The formula is perversely brilliant: > > 1. A public figure with access to the airwaves or pulpit demonizes a person or group of persons. 2. With repetition, the targeted person or group is gradually dehumanized, depicted as loathsome and dangerous—arousing a combustible combination of fear and moral disgust. 3. Violent images and metaphors, jokes about violence, analogies to past “purges” against reviled groups, use of righteous religious language—all of these typically stop just short of an explicit call to arms. 4. When violence erupts, the public figures who have incited the violence condemn it—claiming no one could possibly have foreseen the “tragedy.” Stochastic terrorism is not a fringe concept. It is a terrorist modality that has been described at length by analysts. It produces [terrorism patterns that should be known]( to any member of Congress or any presidential candidate who has ever thought deeply about national or domestic security issues, which one might hope, is all of them.

Indeed, one might expect that the Republicans running for President would be quick to distance themselves from the rhetoric that fuels attacks like this, but of course no such thing is happening. They don’t believe rhetoric is the issue.

Some quotes, courtesy of ThinkProgress:

Carly Fiorina: “This is so typical of the left to immediately demonize the messenger, because they don’t agree with the message,” she said. “What I would say to anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is, this is typical left-wing tactics.” Donald Trump: “I will tell you, there is a tremendous group of people that think it’s terrible, the videos that they’ve seen, with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you’re selling parts to a car,” Trump said on NBC’s _Meet the Press_. “Now I know some of the tapes were perhaps not pertinent. I know a couple of people that were running for office or are running for office on the Republican side were commenting on tapes that weren’t appropriate. But there were many tapes that are appropriate… and there are people that are extremely upset about it.” Mike Huckabee: “I think that’s a little bit disingenuous on the part of Planned Parenthood to blame people, who have a strong philosophical disagreement with the dismembering of human babies and with the selling of body parts, to say that we would like to retaliate by sending some mad man into a clinic to kill people,” he said.

The elephant in the room here is what a concerned citizen is expected to do when there is a federally-funded organization that is routinely accused of murdering babies to harvest their organs. What, people are supposed to just sit by and let this happen? When the actions of an organization like Planned Parenthood are described as “mass murder,” “genocide,” “organ harvesting,” and other heinous crimes, is it really expected that the audience for such remarks are supposed to accept them with a nod followed by a helpless shrug? Are conservative politicians truly so naive that they don’t see a connection between such inflammatory rhetoric and the violence that is carried out in its name?

The stochastic terrorism strategy suggests that the entire cycle is deliberate, meant to stoke outbursts of violence that result in further ideological polarization and yet more violence, presumably with the end goal of effecting a desired social or political change the same way other forms of terrorism are invoked.

It is perhaps further evidence that conservatives do not care about process. They will use political process when it suits them, subvert it when necessary, or bypass it entirely when it gets in the way of their objectives. After all, isn’t any tactic justified when it comes to preventing the “mass murder of babies”? If you were told a Holocaust was happening right down the street from you, wouldn’t you feel a need to stop it?

Photo by Fibonacci Blue