I generally don’t like memes, and I’ve no idea where this originates, but its a useful idea.


The Idea

The earliest account I’ve seen, and some of the wording in the meme comes from this source is an anonymous article in the Daily Kos from January 2011: Stochastic Terrorism: Triggering the shooters.

The person who actually plants the bomb or assassinates the public official is not the stochastic terrorist, they are the “missile” set in motion by the stochastic terrorist.  The stochastic terrorist is the person who uses mass media as their means of setting those “missiles” in motion.

While [the ‘terrorist’] action may have been statistically predictable… the specific person and the specific act are not predictable (yet).

We can think of this as complexity in motion. Just as we know climate change will produce storms that will destroy something valuable and important, we don’t quite know what. Its a dangerous weapon, in that it could bite the person who uses it, but I guess the media is used to direct the actor to hit someone who the stochastic terrorist does not like and has (along with other people) been denouncing.

The Problem

The stochastic terrorist then has plausible deniability: “Oh, it was just a lone nut, nobody could have predicted he would do that, and I’m not responsible for what people in my audience do.”

The expectable ‘missile’ gets arrested or killed, and the stochastic terrorist keeps their position, and possibly gets to tut-tut about how violent their opposition are, and thus encourage more missiles.

The author explains that because the missile could be a ‘lone wolf,’ they are extremely hard to pick up in advance. There is almost no trail and nothing to draw attention to them: “They are law enforcement’s and intel’s worst nightmare.” They are people who are unstable, and just need a small nudge to start planning something that will make an impact and give them notoriety. This is almost a normal part of everyday life in capitalism.

Anyone who is familiar with marketing and advertising knows how this works, and advertisers often target their messages to people who are “ready to buy” and just need a little persuading.  

Perpetrators seem inherently excusable. There is no direct link between them and the result, AND there are so many of them doing this, it becomes hard to assign any individual responsibility.

Bias as entertainment?

Many politicians and political commentators know they are not trying to convince the people on other sides. They are just trying to get their own people worked up, in a lather, vote for the right people, and keep tuned to the show (purely commercial truth distortion). But sometimes this is going to result in a missile, even if they are not being deliberate about this. Listening to the rhetoric, as when Alan Jones talked of someone killing Julia Gillard, it is hard to think they are entirely innocent – for them to be entirely innocent they would have to be entirely ignorant about people and what they are doing, which seems unlikely – but it is possible…

Some people will take talk about Democrats taking away their guns, putting Republicans in concentration camps, wanting to destroy America, injecting them with micro-chips, having health care death panels, taking away their jobs and giving them to blacks, engaging in a coup, inventing Covid and fixing the election as being true, and act appropriately. The more this kind of fantasy is repeated from show to show, and politician to politician, the more likely people are to believe it. The more it is fantasy, the less it needs anything to do with reality, the more profound and hidden it can seem, and the more it is likely to mesh with someone’s prior beliefs.

While Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Carlson, and O’Reilly (or Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin etc.) don’t (or didn’t) do non-verbal violence themselves, they give an unstable someone else all the ‘alternative facts’ and conceptual violence, they need to suffer fear, gain a grudge and take action. They reinforce each other’s effect, as if people hear similar things from others they classify as similar to themselves (“Republican”) then what they hear tends to be taken as true.

The Advantage

Stochastic terrorists also have a great advantage. They don’t have to be reasonable, logical or coherent in their arguments. They don’t have to care about the truth, or accuracy, of what they say. They don’t have to even attempt to specify what is known and what is supposition. They can pretend they are comedy or satire and they can pretend they are 100% true at the same time. They can say whatever they like as long as it’s passionate and resonates with their audience and keeps that audience listening. They can change their mind in nothing flat, as long as the target remains the same. They can be ambiguous and say that what you think they said is not what they said.

For example:

Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick –if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if — if — Hillary gets to put her judges in.

Speech: Donald Trump in Wilmington, NC – August 9, 2016

Many people took this false statement (Clinton did not want to abolish the Second Amendment, ‘essentially’ or otherwise) as an invitation for gun lovers to kill her or ‘her judges’ in advance of her getting “to put her judges in.” But a person from the campaign said:

It’s called the power of unification – 2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power.

Trump Campaign Statement on Dishonest Media

Note the press release title. Always say the others are lying, they have to be evil, that is part of the strategy.

More recently Trump has cast serious aspersions on electoral office workers, Democrat scrutineers and fellow Republicans who would not go along with his attempt to fix the election vote. He has denounced them furiously. Some of them seem to have been stalked and received death threats. This was to be expected. So far no one has died or been seriously assaulted (as far as I know), but it is possible. The big problem is whether this will scare off those who consider that they should be making sure the election is safe and legal, and only encourage those who are sure their job is to make sure their side wins. In any case Trump would deny he was encouraging terror.

This procedure becomes almost impossible to argue with, and the impossibility of arguing against the stochastic terrorist, then shows their followers how true the arguments are. And if you care about ‘free speech’ how could you stop them, whether they know what they are doing or not?

Right Wing Terror?

The foaming at the mouth, abusive, anger raising news commentary originated with the Right and still comes primarily from the Right, so we could expect that this would increase Right wing violence.

American ABC wrote in May 2020 that:

a nationwide review conducted by ABC News has identified at least 54 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault…..

in at least 12 cases perpetrators hailed Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically assaulting innocent victims. In another 18 cases, perpetrators cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. And in another 10 cases, Trump and his rhetoric were cited in court to explain a defendant’s violent or threatening behavior….

the vast majority of the cases – 41 of the 54 – reflect someone echoing presidential rhetoric, not protesting it.

Levine, ‘No Blame?’ ABC News finds 54 cases invoking ‘Trump’ in connection with violence, threats, alleged assaults. ABCNews, 30 May 2020

This number of cases may be trivial. But Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reinforces the general impression, by saying:

The greatest threat we face in the homeland is that posed by lone actors radicalized online who look to attack soft targets with easily accessible weapons. We see this lone actor threat manifested both within domestic violent extremists (DVEs) and homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), two distinct sets of individuals that generally self-radicalize and mobilize to violence on their own. DVEs are individuals who commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as racial bias and anti-government sentiment. HVEs are individuals who have been radicalized primarily in the United States, and who are inspired by, but not receiving individualized direction from, foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs)….

the underlying drivers for domestic violent extremism—such as perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, sociopolitical conditions, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and reactions to legislative actions—remain constant. 

the FBI is most concerned about lone offender attacks, primarily shootings, as they have served as the dominant lethal mode for domestic violent extremist attacks. More deaths were caused by DVEs than international terrorists in recent years. 

Worldwide Threats to the Homeland, FBI.gov 24 September 2020 [emphasis added]

The UN claims “a 320 per cent rise in attacks conducted by individuals affiliated with [right wing] movements and ideologies over the past five years” (emphasis added).

The University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database states that in the US between 2015 and 2019, anti-government types killed 64 people, anti-semites killed 17 people, incels killed 13 people, neo-nazis 12 people, white supremacists 64 people, and jihadis 84 people (p.6). [Glen Beck and his ilk can perhaps be excused the jihadis, but the principle remains, no matter who does it. ]

the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States in 2019 were non-lethal (84%, excluding perpetrator deaths), and these attacks were also motivated by diverse ideological influences, including antifascist, anti-government, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-white, left-wing, pro-choice, and white supremacist/nationalist extremism

Global Terrorism Database p.3.

The Centre for Strategic Studies says:

Between 1994 and 2020, there were 893 terrorist attacks and plots in the United States. Overall, right-wing terrorists perpetrated the majority—57 percent—of all attacks and plots during this period, compared to 25 percent committed by left-wing terrorists, 15 percent by religious terrorists, 3 percent by ethnonationalists, and 0.7 percent by terrorists with other motives.

right-wing terrorism not only accounts for the majority of incidents but has also grown in quantity over the past six years.

The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States, CSS, 17 June 2020

I would suspect that ethnonationalists tend to be of the right, just as the neo-nazis and white supremacists tend to support Trump, so that is 60% of all attacks.

For those who need to be told these things, I am not saying right wing terrorism and assault is the only form terrorism, assault, or riot. That would be stupid. This is about the ways the terror can be ‘organised’ through apparently random events, and that can apply everywhere. I merely assert that it is likely to be more common on the right, at the moment.

To be even clearer. The 316 deaths from ‘terrorism’ between 2015 to 2019, is far less than other deaths. For example its less than 10% of the official deaths from Covid-19 in 2020. In 2017 alone US police shot and killed 987 people (a relatively bad year). In 2019, 793 workers aged 65 years and older died due to an occupational injury, obviously far more workers died because of injury at work in total – the death rate is about 3.5 occupational injury deaths per 100,000 employed workers. Given there are about 130.6 million full time workers in the US in 2019, then that is a large number of deaths from work.

It is far more sensible to be terrified of US police and US employers than of terrorists.

There is no Conclusion

Obviously it is easy to accuse people of working up terrorism stochasically. In a zone of free speech it is hard to ban speech or writing on the grounds it may induce harm (even if it almost certainly will), although conspiracy laws and incitement laws exist. My guess is that it will also be impossible to curtail this kind of ‘news’ and incitement as it is now standard – especially in Mr. Murdoch’s empire. We also cannot expect people to dismiss hysteria and lies as showing that these opinion hosts and politicians have no good ideas or no valid arguments. Indeed it is likely that because this way of emoting is successful, and generates the hatred which justifies its use, it will spread even further.

It is likely more people will die, and more people will believe comforting lies (“we couldn’t have really lost!”) and discussion between groups will continue to lessen and break down. As I’ve said before, there is a case that this politics of abuse and culture war started as a deliberate neoliberal strategy to protect a Right wing politics of further entrenching wealth and the power of wealth, but it now perhaps has consequences which were not originally intended.

If people become terrorised that they might be killed or beaten up for expressing a view, or a researched finding because others will hate them, then society will die, because the information about the world that we use to steer it as best we can, will no longer be accurate, and we will flounder before our problems.

This already seems to be the case – see ecological destruction.

The author of the Daily Kos article quotes an article which says:

“It’s not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by people who watch his show.”

and responds:

I say it damn well is fair to blame them when it happens again and again and predictably again.

Once is a tragedy, twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action.