Stochastic Terrorism and You
Trump's Got a History of Inciting Violence
“Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out acts of violence or terrorism that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable”. In other words, a public figure demonizes a person or group repeatedly, and then that figure’s followers take it upon themselves to do something about that person or group.
One of the classic examples of this type of terrorism is the story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Back during the reign of King Henry II of England, Becket excommunicated Henry because he'd been crowned at York instead of Canterbury. To be honest, the reason for the excommunication doesn't really matter, but the fact it happened does, because it caused a big rift between the king and the church. Annoyed, the King said, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Hearing word of the king's outburst, four knights took it upon themselves to apprehend Becket, and killed him in the process. The king never ordered it, but his words were heard and interpreted as a command by his subjects. The priest died, and the king faced no accountability.
This is a simplistic and maybe somewhat apocryphal tale, but it illustrates the concept nicely. A figure in power publicly complains about someone or something, says someone should do something about this, and their audience hears it and maybe one of them thinks "Oh, if I do something about this, I'll be helping out this authority figure". So that person, a lone wolf, will go and commit an act of violence or terror against whoever the authority figure hates. The authority figure condemns the violence, if not the lone wolf, and says that nobody could have predicted this, and then goes on to repeat the same behaviour that led to the violence in the first place.
You can see it in a lot of places. Left wing, right wing, religious, and ethno-nationalist figures and spaces are all guilty of this at some point, but I want to focus on the right wing side of things, since right wing terrorism and violence makes up almost 60% of all domestic terrorism in America since 1994(if, as I do, you count religious and ethno-nationalist as right wing, it becomes about 75% of all domestic terrorism in America).
A good recent example of stochastic terrorism is the mail bombs sent to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and others back in 2018, sent due to the violent rhetoric of both Donald Trump and FOX News. Another would be the Christchurch Shooting in New Zealand, committed by a fan of the popular youtuber, Pewdiepie, who had been radicalized by the youtuber's constant antisemitic, racist, and islamophobic comments.
In every case, the actual stochastic terrorists(Donald Trump, FOX News, Pewdiepie) condemn the violence perpetrated in their name. But none of those three figures have changed their rhetoric or the way they present it, so they clearly don't care if some no-name lone wolf goes out to kill some brown people. All they have to do is say that the shooter is crazy. It's true that we could not have predicted that Cesar Sayoc, Jr specifically would mail a bunch of Trump critics some bombs, or that it would specifically be mail bombs, or even bombs. But we could predict that someone would take it upon themselves to attack Trump's enemies. You can't say to millions of people "she's a criminal, a nasty woman, lock her up, etc" and not expect to inspire hatred and violence. It was only a matter of time until someone tried.
Now, take Trump’s unhinged tweeting about how Michigan needs to be liberated, or how blue states are openly defying him, and then a group of domestic terrorists are caught trying to kidnap Governor Whitmer. By making his wishes known, that he wants his supporters to fight back against blue state governments and BLM protestors, he enables his supporters to carry out those wishes, while removing himself from any accountability.
But if you yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and someone gets hurt in the ensuing rush to get out, it’s your fault. Likewise, if the president says “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and then a group of his supporters try to kidnap the governor, then he has incited a domestic terrorist plot to perform a coup. But the way in which he did it gives him deniability.
Given his history, and the wider history of right-wing violence in support of him since 2016, it was intentional. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he makes these inflammatory statements. He knows he won’t be held accountable when he complains about protestors or Blue States and then his supporters go out to hit them with cars, or shoot them, or kidnap them. All he has to say is “nobody could have predicted this!”, which is untrue. We may not know exactly who, or exactly how, but we do know why: because Donald Trump is telling them to.