Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) October 8, 2020
Dictionary.com provides an unusually detailed definition and description of "stochiastic terrorism." Here is part of their article on the subject.
Stochastic terrorism is “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.”
The word stochastic, in everyday language, means “random.” Terrorism, here, refers to “violence motivated by ideology.”
Here’s the idea behind stochastic terrorism:
- A leader or organization uses rhetoric in the mass media against a group of people.
- This rhetoric, while hostile or hateful, doesn’t explicitly tell someone to carry out an act of violence against that group, but a person, feeling threatened, is motivated to do so as a result.
- That individual act of political violence can’t be predicted as such, but that violence will happen is much more probable thanks to the rhetoric.
- This rhetoric is thus called stochastic terrorism because of the way it incites random violence.
Public speech that may incite violence, even without that specific intent, has been given a name: stochastic terrorism, for a pattern that can’t be predicted precisely but can be analyzed statistically. It is the demonization of groups through mass media and other propaganda that can result in a violent act because listeners interpret it as promoting targeted violence — terrorism. And the language is vague enough that it leaves room for plausible deniability and outraged, how-could-you-say-that attacks on critics of the rhetoric.
Kayyem wrote this after more than 20 people in El Paso, Texas were murdered in a mass shooting, followed closely by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio that killed 9. But she could just as easily have been talking about Donald Trump's incitement against Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other politicians who had implemented work and travel restrictions as measures to fight the spread of the Corona virus. The following April 17 tweet was in obvious reference to Whitmer's lockdown.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
On April 30, hundreds of protesters, including an armed militia, protested at Michigan's Capitol building against Whitmer's lockdown order. Over 100 people, some of them armed, were allowed inside the building. Donald Trump did not condemn the intimidation tactics of protesters who brought guns into the workspace of Michigan's lawmakers. Instead of trying to discourage their tactics, he endorsed their cause with this tweet the next day.
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
Protesters returned to Michigan's capitol building on May 14. This time one of them carried a doll with a noose around its neck. The protester who brought this doll later said that it represented any politician who would not stand up to Governor Whitmer's lockdown, but since the doll was that of a woman with brunette hair most would interpret it as Governor Whitmer being hung in effigy.
On October 8, the FBI and state authorities broke up a plot by anti-government terrorists to kidnap Governor Whitmer, kill police officers, and start a civil war. Though at least 4 of the 13 arrested terrorists attended the April 30 rally, there is not much evidence that they were inspired by Trump. In fact, posts on social media by some of the terrorists discussing potential attacks against the government drew the FBI's attention in March, well before Trump's first tweet. Thus, it seems unlikely that this particular terror plot arose out of Trump's rhetoric. However, Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant for counterterrorism and threat prevention in Trump's Department of Homeland Security, argues that Trump's failed leadership has created an environment where terrorist activities like this are more likely. First, she notes that the pandemic has increased the risk factors for violent extremism: "isolation, financial stress, job loss, loss of loved ones and significant changes or uncertainty in life." Next, she notes that "some groups would perceive public health measures as government overreach infringing on rights and liberties, which might encourage anti-government extremists." She writes:
A good leader can speak to the country — especially those most susceptible to radicalization — and contextualize the national and worldwide struggle against covid-19 in a way that unites people and discourages division, anger and grievance.
In March, anticipating the effects of the lockdowns and the need for national unity, my team developed a messaging campaign to help federal, state and local leaders build resilience within communities. Although the materials were approved within DHS, they never received the required approvals from the White House Covid-19 Task Force. . . .
Rather than bring us together, the president did the exact opposite. In April, he tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” . . .
Language from campaign materials and Trump’s extemporaneous speeches at rallies have been used as justification for acts of violence. The president has repeatedly been confronted with this fact. He and his supporters retort that he has, eventually, denounced violence and white supremacists. But the issue is not whether he has ever condemned those ideas and people; it is that he is inconsistent and muddied in his condemnations. Extremists thrive on this mixed messaging, interpreting it as coded support.
Combined with the president’s repeated efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election and militaristic calls to “join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” law enforcement and counterterrorism officials have expressed concerns to me that the president’s rhetoric will lead to more civil unrest and violence. A survey by YouGov and Voter Study Group and published by Politico shows that “among Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican, 1 in 3 now believe that violence could be justified to advance their parties’ political goals — a substantial increase over the last three years.”
Even if the terrorists behind the recently busted plot were not inspired by Trump, Trump's actions have increased the probability that there will be more violence directed at Whitmer and others in the future. Trump gave mixed messages the day after the plot was exposed. Let's look at a series of his tweets on the day after the terrorists were arrested.
Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities. The Federal Government provided tremendous help to the Great People of Michigan. My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2020
...I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2020
It's great that Trump denounced extreme violence. But look what else he is doing. He is demonizing Biden, the Democrats, and Whitmer while simultaneously demanding that Whitmer do what the terrorists wanted her to do. Perhaps it was unintentional, but there is a somewhat sinister feel to these tweets. Lurking unstated is the unstated message of, "I am denouncing violence, but if you do not give in to the terrorists' demands you may face future violence. Oh well. Nothing I can do. And by the way, let me demonize you in these tweets and further incite the mob against you."
Trump further demonized Whitmer when he went on Fox News on October 15 and said, "Michigan, she has to open up, She wants to be a dictator in Michigan, and the people can’t stand her."
And in case his message was still too subtle, Trump eliminated any doubts that he wanted to incite Michiganders against her when he whipped up his audience at a Michigan rally into a frenzy a week later. Trump demonized her and then basked in the glow of the audience's enraged chants of "LOCK HER UP." A more traditional president, a president who didn't rely on intimidation and thuggery to get his way, would have said,
Stop it! We are country that honors the rule of law, and though you hate what the Governor has done, the way to oppose her is to sue her in court. If what she has done has violated your constitutional rights, let the court rule against her and put her in her place. Unlike banana republics, we do not encourage vigilante justice. We do not incite violence. And we do not throw our political opponents in jail unless they have committed jailable crimes like embezzling money or accepting bribes. And even if our political opponents have committed crimes, they are only to be jailed after they have had a fair trial in which it is proven that they have committed crimes.
Trump not only failed to calm his audience down. He actually joined them in their chants of "LOCK HER UP."
Whitmer reacted as anyone would who was the target of Trump's incitement. She was backed up by her Deputy Digital Director, Tori Saylor.
This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop. https://t.co/EWkNQx3Ppx
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) October 17, 2020
I am the Governor's Deputy Digital Director. I see everything that is said about and to her online.
Every single time the President does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media.
It has to stop. It just has to. https://t.co/eupQXzGydN
— Tori Saylor (@tori_saylor) October 17, 2020
Olivia Troye, who worked as the homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence, weighed in as well.
I was in the room for the weekly Covid calls with Governors, the bullying & the spiteful remarks made about you for standing strong- @GovWhitmer The President knows exactly what he’s doing with his dangerous rhetoric. No American should fool themselves into thinking otherwise. https://t.co/SNZ0iEqOgC
— Olivia of Troye (@OliviaTroye) October 18, 2020
The Trump campaign should have dialed down the inflammatory rhetoric to prevent further violent attacks. Instead, they dialed it up to 11 with the following two tweets that could not have been more carefully tailored to generate rage and hatred towards Governor Whitmer.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer displayed an "86 45" sign during her TV appearance.
86 can be shorthand for killing someone.
Whitmer is encouraging assassination attempts against President Trump just weeks after someone sent a ricin-laced package to the White House. pic.twitter.com/GzvtrjH40A
— Trump War Room - Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) October 18, 2020
— Trump War Room - Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) October 18, 2020
The following two pictures, the first from Wikipedia and the second from the Urban Dictionary, were attached to the second tweet.
The Trump campaign had to reach and stretch and contort to come up with their claim that Whitmer was advocating Trump's assassination. Consider the following:
- Governor Whitmer was obviously Zooming in from her home or office. The 8645 was so tiny on this image that someone had to be looking for something, anything, they could use to inflame hatred against her. It was so obscure in the picture that the Trump campaign had to circle it so that people could see it. If Whitmer WAS trying to send out a message that people should kill Trump, this would be the most inefficient way of doing so. No doubt the 8645 decal was meant for Governor Whitmer's personal amusement or the amusement of those who visited her. It was not intended as a message to trigger potential assassins.
- Even if the decal were bigger and easily noticeable, not many people would have understood what "8645" meant without someone like the Trump campaign pointing out that this was a coded message.
- The Trump campaign used the Wikipedia's definition of 86 and the Urban Dictionary's definition of 86'd as evidence that Whitmer used the term as a suggestion to kill. However, Wikipedia is not a dictionary and is not the most authoritative source for definitions. As of this writing, the phrase "killing someone" has been removed from the Wikipedia page and there is a very hot debate among Wikipedia's editors over whether that term should be included in the definition. The definition that the Trump Campaign copied from the Urban Dictionary is just one of 6 entries for the term "86'd". There are six entries under the term "86" (without the 'd) in the Urban dictionary. One of these entries lists three definitions with the third definition being: "To get rid of (usually in reference to a person, often a coworker...sometimes viewed jokingly as a euphemism for killing them)." The other 5 references do not mention "killing." Miriam-Webster's Dictionary defines "86" as "to refuse to serve (a customer) also : to get rid of : THROW OUT." Definitions.net compiles definitions from multiple sources including Random House College Dictionary, Princeton WordNet, Wiktionary, Webster Dictionary. None of their definitions include the words "murder" or "kill" except for "To kill a plan or action." There is nothing in their definitions about killing people.
In short, the Trump campaign has drawn our attention to a barely noticeable decal, informed us it was a code rather than just random numbers, and used one of the most obscure definitions of the term "86" to definitively claim that Whitmer is inciting the assassination of the President. In doing so they ignored the far more common use of the term "86" which would imply that Whitmer wanted to get rid of or remove President Trump by voting him out of office. This would be outrageous under normal circumstances. But to do this less than two weeks after an assassination plot against Whitmer was exposed and when many Michiganders are already enraged at Whitmer for enacting measures to save lives by preventing the spread of the pandemic is inviting another assassination attempt. If this isn't stochiastic terrorism, I don't know what is.
This is the fourth article of a five-part series documenting Trump's attacks on our democracy. Here are all the articles in the series.
- Trump has politicized the Justice Department to help his friends and attack his enemies.
- Trump has attacked our courts and judicial system.
- Trump has attacked the free press and made it more dangerous for reporters to cover him.
- Trump is a stochiastic terrorist who has endangered the life of Michigan's Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and others.
- Trump has refused to commit himself to the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election