What Is ‘Stochastic Terrorism’ And How Does The Right Engage In It?

President Trump's dangerously divisive political rhetoric helps to foster and feed stochastic terrorism.

“Remote control murder by lone wolf.”

This is one definition of stochastic terrorism offered by the anonymous blogger who coined the term in 2011 to describe the ways in which individuals are radicalized and provoked to terroristic violence.

The longer definition — “The use of mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable” — gets to the heart of growing concern in the United States that increasingly divisive and extreme political rhetoric will lead to more and more domestic terror attacks.

Heather Timmons penned a piece for Quartz on this very issue last year after Cesar Sayoc was arrested for his mail bomb plot that targeted prominent Democrats, CNN, and other perceived enemies.

“Terrorism is rising in the US, and falling around the world, the Global Terrorism Database shows,” Timmons wrote. “That rise is fueled mostly by right-wing and religiously-affiliated groups.”

In recent memory, several lone wolves fit the bill of violent individuals — often radicalized online — who went on to commit horrific acts of terrorism within the United States: Dylan Roof, who killed nine African Americans at a church in 2015; James Alex Fields, who killed a woman and injured many others after driving his car into a crowd of protesters; and James Hodgkinson, who opened fire on a Republican baseball team.

Two of these individuals were known to consume extremist materials online and all showed evidence of being radicalized in their social media activity.

After Roof’s mass shooting in South Carolina, then-Governor Nikki Haley — who would go on to serve under President Donald Trump — warned in 2016 that “Trump’s divisive campaign statements could spur similar incidents,” Timmons noted.

The stochastic terrorism blogger predicted such outcomes years ago, writing that “Vitriolic messages disseminated by pundits like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly will have the same effect as Osama bin Laden’s videotaped calls to violence.”

Trump joined the chorus of voices promoting division long before his presidential run, and in the time since his election, his rhetoric has only worsened.

The president routinely demonizes the American press as the “enemy of the people” and regularly criticizes certain media outlets — such as CNN, NBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post — as purveyors of “fake news.”

Likewise, Trump singles out politicians and journalists who disagree with his views in demeaning terms, painting them as Republican enemies and enemies of America’s prosperity.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump went so far as to insinuate his supporters could hinder his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, if she became president by making use of their Second Amendment rights.

Timmons writes:

In August 2016, as a presidential candidate, he suggested that the “Second Amendment people” could do something to stop his opponent Hillary Clinton from picking liberal judges, if she won that year’s election.

The implication was clear: People who rely on the constitutional right to bear arms (presumably gun owners) had a unique means of stopping his Democratic rival. Trump denied that he was calling for Clinton to be shot. Rolling Stone and others dubbed it a case of stochastic terrorism.

Rather than fight against the threat of terrorism at home, Trump has only worked to further entrench dangerous and divisive rhetoric within America’s political discourse.

What’s more, the Trump administration also has hampereded the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to counter such terrorism by focusing instead on the threat of Islamic-inspired terrorism.

Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead who co-founded Life After Hate, decried the move last year, warning it could have dire consequences.

“We have hundreds of thousands of homegrown sovereign citizens and militia members with ties to white nationalism, training in paramilitary camps across the US and standing armed in front of mosques to intimidate marginalized Americans,” Picciolini said.

“The greatest terror threat we face as a nation is already within our borders, yet we refuse to even call it terrorism when it happens.”

Though homegrown, predominantly right-wing terrorism continues to be a serious threat to Americans’ safety and well-being, Trump is content to stoke the flames.

He has become a key player in stochastic terrorism in the United States.

Read Timmons’ full piece.

Comments