For a while, there was a range of videos on YouTube by American (US-ian) leftists that explored a somewhat obscure term: stochastic terrorism. The reason I mention them is that they were some of the first times I heard the word, which is really neat. Today’s article is intended to serve as a primer for anyone who is curious about this term, and why I think it matters that people know it.
Why am I specifically discussing this?
I study violence and conflict. I am literally getting a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies. Most of the videos and articles I watched and read were not created by or written by people who actually study violence or conflict in any capacity and I feel as though there was a lost opportunity to highlight the valuable work done by people who study violence, terrorism, and rhetoric. So I’m using my platform to let people know about stochastic terrorism and to share my thoughts on it as a person who studies violence.
So what is stochastic terrorism?
Presently the term refers to the incitement of violence targetting groups that have experienced public demonization, such as scapegoating by government officials or other significant organizations and influential individuals. It can also refer (and is generally used this way by the leftists I’ve seen discussing it) to the actual violence that people whose radicalization came not from membership in or allegiance to organized terror groups but who owe their radicalization to a less conventional source. In leftist media circles that I’ve seen and am a part of a lot of people point to right-wing media sources as potential sources of radicalization with some fairly common examples being Breitbart and Fox News.
And even if you disagree with people who cite them as sources of radicalization, Fox News and Breitbart have been cited as playing a role in the radicalization of some people by the people themselves.
Another source many people cite for radicalization is Alex Jones. A very real example of this is Jones’ promotion of the so-called “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, a conspiracy theory which resulted in an armed gunman going to the restaurant and terrifying restaurant-goers.
It’s also worth noting that often times stochastic terrorists aren’t necessarily or at least exclusively the violence-doers but can also include the people whose rhetoric and influence incites violence. In The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism authors, Dr. Mark Hamm and Dr. Ramon Spaaij directly describe the rhetoricians responsible for inciting violence as stochastic terrorists themselves, including Alex Jones.
Stochastic terrorism is often linked to the idea of so-called “lone wolf” or perhaps more aptly described as “stray dog” terrorism.
Why does this matter?
Radicalization is real and it doesn’t require someone being a member of ISIS or of the Klan. Heck, the people responsible for the radicalization might not even be radicalized themselves but some of them are and people can be radicalized without acting overtly violent. Understanding stochastic terrorism is an important part of understanding why it is that some people with platforms use their platforms the way they do. They hope to encourage some of their followers to act violently.
I’m not saying that every single person with a platform who disagrees with me hopes that their followers act violently and inflict terror on people they hate, in fact I’ll state that the vast majority of people with platforms who disagree with me would probably disavow violence if it happened in their names or due to their influence if they are people who act in good faith, but we need to be real and state the truth plainly. Not all people with platforms hope to use their platforms in good faith and to be successful in the so-called “marketplace of ideas”.
Stochastic terrorism is real and understanding it matters if we care about the political health of our nation and of our communities. If we want to be healthy, ethical communicators we need to understand how it is that some communicators are not healthy or ethical. If we care about preventing violence we need to understand what drives people to violence.
Knowing the words and seeing examples of this unorthodox sort of terrorism helps us envision it more clearly and be better prepared to call it out. It makes it easier for us to call out dangerous rhetoric that can be radicalizing, which is something those of us who are humanists ought to do.
What can you do about it?
It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of this sort of social phenomenon. If you’re like me, you’re probably an average person who doesn’t rely on a platform of yours for a living. You probably aren’t a social media influencer or a professional media personality. So what can you do?
First and foremost you can call out alarming rhetoric. When someone like Tucker Carlson says that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar “hates America”, you can call him out. Even if you disagree with her policies the idea that she hates America is an idea we should all be able to say is clearly untrue. The people who listen to Tucker Carlson uncritically and accept his rhetoric as true are potential victims of radicalization and rhetoric that states that a congresswoman hates this country will move radicals to try and harm her. We know this to be true because fans of critics of Congresswoman Omar have in some cases already been radicalized to the extent of threatening violence against her. When this happens we need to be part of the solution and we do this by voicing our disagreement and by boldly stating the truth.
Secondly, we can urge people with platforms to learn about stochastic terrorism. We can tweet articles and videos that discuss it at them. If you want someone you admire to be a voice of reason and caution then send them articles like this one, or videos that discuss these topics and urge them to incorporate such content into their programming.
Thirdly we can create content ourselves. You don’t have to be a professional to be able to write an article, send out a tweet thread, or send out a letter to the editor. These are things anyone can and should do.
Lastly, we can and should support reasonable voices. The vast majority of people with platforms out there don’t want violence to be done in their names or because of their rhetoric. We can and should support people who make this undoubtedly clear and many people do. Support ethical communicators and people who use their platforms morally. Their work matters and helps create more healthy societies.
Feeling powerless to stop this is what stochastic terrorists want. Keep that in mind when deciding whether or not this is your fight, or something you could afford to not do. Because people who incite violence through the usage of media and rhetoric want you to feel like there’s nothing you can do. They want you apathetic. You have to decide whether or not you can afford to say or do anything. And I believe there’s a lot you can do. Unlike them, I believe you’re powerful. Believe in yourself as I believe in you.
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Luciano Joshua Gonzalez-Vega runs Sin/God and is the column’s sole author. The Puerto Rican writer is constantly working, whether he’s creating content for his YouTube channel, searching for freelance writing jobs, studying to finish earning a Master’s of Arts degree in peace & conflict studies, discussing various topics with his friends online such as on Wednesday nights with fellow YouTuber Wonder Lady as the co-host of the Humanist Perspectives program, or as a general guest on a range of different YouTube channels. He is an independent content creator and columnist who dreams of being financially independent and able to self-finance a consultant’s business aiding businesses and organizations that find themselves burdened and needing conflict management services and even hoping to one day have a nationally syndicated radio show wherein he aids people dealing with workplace or familial conflicts and also advocates for humanistic approaches to the problems of the day.
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