The phrase “stochastic terrorism” was coined by Daily Kos Community member G2Geek back in 2011 and now has its own Wiktionary page. It can also be found on dictionary.com. Broadly defined, the phrase means:
1. The use of mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.
In the political context, it is a form of mass incitement that will statistically result in probable violence, while providing those inciting the violence a veneer of legal deniability (“no one could have foreseen,” etc.).
As an example, when Donald Trump suggested that his violent supporters might want to employ ‘Second Amendment” remedies against Hillary Clinton, Trump was engaging in stochastic terrorism. Trump engages in this kind of tactic on a regular basis at his rallies and through his tweets. It is the most likely reason that several prominent Democrats have been systematically attacked with pipe bombs over the last few days. Direct incitement of his supporters to commit murder could and would carry stiff legal penalties (including imprisonment) for Trump, so indirect incitement—aka stochastic terrorism—is his favored method.
The phrase has previously been cited in such publications as Vox and Rolling Stone. As explained in a Merriam-Webster discussion:
The word comes from the Greek word stochastikos, which means “skillful in aiming” or “proceeding by guesswork.”
Until today, however, the phrase had not appeared in The New York Times. Today it not only appears in an op-ed published in The Times, authored by Eyal Press, a 2018 Andrew Carnegie fellow, but it is included in the article’s header summary, and, most significantly, attributed without attribution or hyperlink.
That means, in a lay sense, that it’s now a mainstream term, ready for the big time at last.
The headline of The Times article states:
This Week’s Mail Bombs Are No Surprise
They are examples of stochastic terrorism — individually random, but these days, statistically predictable
Press analyzes this week’s pipe bombings through the prism of our new understanding of stochastic terrorism. First he acknowledges the recent origin of the phrase.
In recent years, a term has begun to circulate to capture this phenomenon — “stochastic terrorism,” in which mass communications, including social media, inspire random acts of violence that according to one description “are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” In other words, every act and actor is different, and no one knows by whom or where an act will happen — but it’s a good bet that something will.
He then applies the term to several prior instances of right-wing extremists acting not as “lone wolves," as they are often characterized, but as statistically predictable murderers whose actions were egged on by the widespread demonization of vulnerable target groups or individuals by right-wing media outlets. He uses the attacks by right wing extremists on abortion providers as an example, where those attacks were shown to be motivated by the dissemination of videos (falsely) claiming that Planned Parenthood was in the business of selling fetal tissues and organs.
While noting that we do not yet have a suspect in this week’s campaign of terror bombings against Democrats, Press notes the strong likelihood that these attacks were motivated by the stochastic terrorism utilized by Donald Trump in his speeches and rallies.
[I]t is Mr. Trump who has called journalists “scum” and “enemies of the people” (and who recently suggested that Representative Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian, was “my kind of guy”). It is Mr. Trump who ran a campaign ad depicting George Soros as part of a cabal of globalists — all of whom happened to be Jewish — who have “bled our country dry.” It is Mr. Trump who suggested that “Second Amendment people” might have to “do” something if his opponent in the 2016 Presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, got to pick judges they did not like.
Press then explains why Americans’ understanding of stochastic terrorism and its implications is especially important at this critical point in time.
These are just words, some would say. But words have consequences, especially when they are stated repeatedly by influential figures and sound distinctly like dog whistles to extremists who might well feel emboldened to act on them. Now more than ever, no one should feign surprise or innocence about this.
So if you see G2Geek in a comments thread, please stop by to congratulate him. He has moved the country a giant step forward towards understanding the menace that is Donald Trump.
The midterms are just days away, but it’s not too late to chip in $3 or more to help take the House and Senate back from Trump’s minions!