Content warning: This story contains descriptions of child abuse.
In an effort to generate publicity for his scandal-ridden Senate campaign, Missouri Republican Eric Greitens posed on Monday with Donald Trump Jr. at a shooting range. As he empties his semi-automatic pistol into the targets, he pointedly mutters, “Liberals beware.” For his part, Trump Jr., mugging for the camera, adds, “Striking fear into the hearts of liberals everywhere, folks,” after both he and Greitens fire semi-automatic weapons.
The staged event was clearly edited and spliced for maximum effect and dissemination on Twitter by Greitens himself.
Unfortunately (and as they are both well aware), neither Greitens nor Trump are likely to face any repercussions or consequences for what is essentially an expression of approval and implicit permission for Republicans to murder Democrats. The use of suggestive or “stochastic” invitations for Republicans to terrorize Democrats is now—thanks to Donald Trump—an accepted and familiar staple of Republican rhetoric. It provides an opportunity for channeling their base’s already well-stoked hatreds while allowing both Greitens and Trump Jr. plausible deniability for actually fomenting and encouraging violence: the “We were only joking!” defense. Conversely, any criticism is automatically characterized as overreaction and, implicitly, weakness.
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The fact that less discerning viewers may take it quite seriously and act on such threats is of no concern to these people, because at present there is little that a hypothetical shooting victim whose attacker felt motivated or validated in his actions by this video can do to trace liability or responsibility back to Trump Jr. and Greitens.
Dictionary.com defines stochastic terrorism as follows:
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.”
From the same source, four factors are indicative of this type of 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.
For Greitens in particular, the “shock value” of employing these demonstrative tactics is particularly revealing. He is attempting to distract from serious allegations of child and spousal abuse that have come to light in a custody dispute with his former wife, Sheena Greitens. In an affidavit filed last month, Sheena Greitens provided some of the details of that alleged abuse, which she claims she will back up with photographic and other evidence as the case proceeds.
As CNN reports:
“In early June 2018, I became afraid for my safety and that of our children at our home, which was fairly isolated, due to Eric’s unstable and coercive behavior,” she said. “This behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then three-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair.”
Sheena Greitens said she and others were so concerned about Eric Greitens’ behavior that they limited his access to firearms on three occasions. She said she was concerned about the “escalation of physical violence” and eventually, “I started sleeping in my children’s room simply to try to keep them safe,” according to her affidavit.
The irony that Greitens is denying his former wife’s allegations while at the same time escalating the very violence-fueled rhetoric and use of firearms that she describes in her affidavit—albeit now in the pursuit of his political ambitions—is fairly inescapable.
The sad fact is that this type of rhetoric will continue to proliferate as long as Americans continue to treat both the tactics and those who employ them as legitimate rather than something despicable and unworthy of our country.