Sunday, December 06, 2015

"Stochastic" terrorism

The concept of "stochastic: terrorism is getting attention recently in connection with so-called "lone wolf" or "self-starting" terrorists. Valerie Tarico describes the concept in How the Extreme Christian Right Incited the Assault on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Alternet 11/30/2015.

Tarico describes how a deliberately inflammatory campaign like the intensely dishonest one that the antiabortion movement has waged against Planned Parenthood can and does incite people to violence in pursuit of the cause:

Inciting violence this way is called stochastic terrorism. “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.”

In an incident of stochastic terrorism, the person who pulls the trigger gets the blame. He (I use the male pronoun because the triggerman is almost always a man) 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 figure who have incited the violence condemn it, claiming no one could possibly have foreseen the “tragedy.”
Republicans and the antiabortion movement react to such observations by whining that the Mean Libruls are trying to persecute them and take away their freedom of speech because of "political correctness," which they consider politically incorrect.

Actually, most progressives are happy to be able to tell exactly who it is inciting such violence. Somebody, the Democrats may get consistent and aggressive in holding them morally and politically responsible for their encouragement of violence against people they associate with abortion and abortion rights. We can always dream.

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