“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 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:
• A public figure with access to the airwaves or pulpit demonizes a person or group of persons.
• With repetition, the targeted person or group is gradually dehumanized, depicted as loathsome and dangerous—arousing a combustible combination of fear and moral disgust.
• 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.
• 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.
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