A Look at "Stochastic Terrorism: Triggering the Shooters" (from DailyKos)
Daily Kos diarist G2geek published an essay on January 10 that deserves attention and further analysis. He argued that rash media figures activate lone wolf types through "emotional rhetoric." When the lone wolves commit an assassination, bombing, etc., the emotional rhetoric of media personalities makes them stochastic terrorists. Why? The volume and intensity of their rhetoric will inevitably launch a lone wolf terrorist on the unsuspecting target for assassination. G2geek says that the theory does not yet apply to the Giffords assassination due to limited information on the assassin. However, the author provides examples of previous political murders used to support his argument and theory.
Definition: Stochastic: 1) RANDOM, specifically: involving a random variable; 2) involving chance or probability; PROBABILISTIC. Miriam Webster
The theory (heuristic, at this point) is worth considering on its own merits. In addition, it is important to examine the author's link between the claimed stochastic terrorism of bin Laden and the domestic process that he describes. ("That's stochastic terrorism as surely as when Bin Laden does it.")
"The stochastic terrorist is the person who uses mass media to broadcast memes that incite unstable people to commit violent acts."
"One or more unstable people responds to the incitement by becoming a lone wolf and committing a violent act. While their action may have been statistically predictable (e.g. "given the provocation, someone will probably do such-and-such"), the specific person and the specific act are not predictable (yet).
"The stochastic terrorist then has plausible deniability: "Oh, it was just a lone nut, nobody could have predicted he would do that, and I'm not responsible for what people in my audience do."
"The lone wolf who was the "missile" gets captured and sentenced to life in prison, while the stochastic terrorist keeps his prime time slot and goes on to incite more lone wolves." Stochastic Terrorism: Triggering the Shooters, G2geek, Daily Kos, January 2, 2011
The core of the theory claims a causal connection between the highly evocative political rhetoric of figures like "Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly" and acts that have a probabilistic inevitability when you factor in the total number of "people who are emotionally unstable" and the nonstop exposure of these three (and more) by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and broadcast operations.
Lone wolves are the "missile" launched by the stochastic terrorists, the media personalities who pump out emotional, irrational, and inflammatory messages on a regular basis.
"The term "lone wolf" is used in law enforcement and intel to refer to an individual who is emotionally unstable, who lacks obvious ties to known criminal gangs or terrorist groups, and who pops up seemingly out of nowhere to commit a violent or terrorist act.
"At any given time there are hundreds of thousands of Americans with combinations of personality characteristics (such as emotional instability, a paranoid ideology, and a propensity for violence) that put them at risk of going off the deep end and becoming lone wolves. All it takes is the right push, the right nudge at the right time, to dislodge a few of them and send them on their way to fifteen minutes of fame surrounded by dead bodies."
G2geek provides four lone wolves to prove his theory: David Atkinson (shot 9 people at a Unitarian Church; Richard Poplawski (shot 5 Pittsburgh police officers); Scott Roeder (shot and killed a gynecologist in his church) to stop abortions; and Brian Williams (shot a California Highway Patrol officer when stopped on the way to assault members of two liberal non profit). The author connects each of these lone wolf shooters to the personalities he cited as stochastic terrorists and cites statements by the accused/convicted that indicate exposure to the right wing purveyors of "emotional rhetoric."
Prior Knowledge by the Stochastic Terrorists
The most provocative aspect of the theory argues that the stochastic terrorists know or should know what they are doing. G2geek calls it, pulling the trigger by remote control:
"If you wanted certain people dead, but you wanted plausible deniability, you would have someone else do the deed for you at a distance, the greater the distance the better.
"One way to do it would be to use your position on radio or TV to hurl emotional rhetoric that is calculated to appeal to people who are psychologically unstable. Some of them will go out and vote, some will go forth and spread your rant-memes, some will get into bar-room brawls over one issue or another.
There are crucial assumptions earlier in the article to support this point.
"So let's take Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly. There is no question that their emotional rhetoric appeals to people who are emotionally unstable. And, since their audiences are tracked and analyzed in detail, there is no question that they know it. "
G2geek notes the detailed audience profiles available to these media personalities. He argues that they're either doing what they do to transform the emotions of lone wolves, given all the detail they know about this group or they are, "just crazy enough to truly believe that you really don't have anything to do with it."
The essay concludes with these to key points:
"…someone needs to ask them: In light of this latest in a series of ideologically-motivated murders, are you willing to tone down your rhetoric even a little?"
"And now we know how it's done: stir the pot and wait for the inevitable, and then deny it and do it again. That's stochastic terrorism as surely as when Bin Laden does it. And Beck and his fellow hate-mongers are terrorists by remote control."
Not Your Manchurian Candidate, Worse
The 1962 classic, The Manchurian Candidate, told the tale of an American POW of North Korea. The prisoner had been "brainwashed" to be a political assassin. After hearing an activating phrase, the well placed ex POW would assassinate the intended target with no real memory to explain his act. According to G2geek, the stochastic terrorist is not programmed by anyone in particular. He is a product of emotional problems and environment. The activating words are not programmed; they just arrive and activate one of the large pool of potential shooters.
If this theory is correct, there is a huge pool of potential assassins subject to the influence of stochastic terrorists. The fictional notion of foreign programmed assassins pales in comparison to several hundred thousand human "missiles" ready to launch at the perceived command generated by a talking head.
Limitations of the Stochastic Terrorist Theory
G2geek presented a preliminary case for his theory. It needs to be fleshed out and heavily documented to gain acceptance. That limitation is not a criticism of the author. It is a function of the newness of the argument.
Questions arise about the definition of the term "emotional rhetoric." It is critical descriptor since the theory claims that the rhetoric launches the acts of violence. That term is too vague, even for a preliminary theory. One would expect a combination of lies, appeals to prejudices, double binds, plus confounding and circular logic, at least, as the activating element. Emotional rhetoric is not a sufficiently descriptive term to justify the type of activation hypothesized. Another limitation concerns the bin Laden analogy.
The bin Laden Comparison
G2geek says, "That's stochastic terrorism as surely as when Bin Laden does it." Two recent articles from mainstream figures (one political, the other academic) are remarkable in their utter derision for the notion that bin Laden is alive.
Former Clinton White House spokesperson, Robert Weiner, wrote an essay for the Washington Times, Osama bin Laden is Dead - Maybe the CIA should get Confirmation from SNL, December 23, 2010. Now the head of a security firm, Weiner cited various intelligence sources and other evidence pointing to bin Laden's demise then said:
"Al Qaeda wants America and the world to believe bin Laden is still alive. His image is a specter of the horrors of Sept. 11, helping build public support for everything from troop surges a globe away to warrantless wiretaps at home.
"But the image of bin Laden is getting moldy, and there's little reason for his ghost to scare anyone anymore. If al Qaeda wants America to believe bin Laden is alive, it should put up or shut up." Robert Weiner, James Lewis, December 23, 2010
"Seven years after Osama bin Laden's last verifiable appearance among the living, there is more evidence for Elvis's presence among us than for his. Hence there is reason to ask whether the paradigm of Osama bin Laden as terrorism's deus ex machina and of al Qaeda as the prototype of terrorism may be an artifact of our Best and Brightest's imagination, and whether investment in this paradigm has kept our national security establishment from thinking seriously about our troubles' sources. So let us take a fresh look at the fundamentals. " Angelo M. Cordevila, March 2009
Let's assume the two authors are correct. That means that those producing the Osama bin Elvis tapes are a new type of stochastic terrorist with a much more elaborate delivery mechanism.
Working with the this assumption raises further question regarding the bin Laden terrorist paradigm. Even if he's alive, there is no real evidence provided for the assertion that his tapes (or those by others) activate terrorists in the United States. Nobody claims 9/11 was due to taped messages from bin Laden that activated disgruntled types to carry out the attacks.
Where is the evidence of additional bin Laden inspired terrorist attacks in the United States after 9/11? Absent the proof of a stochastic terrorism by bin Laden in the United States, bin Laden is irrelevant to the theory of stochastic terrorism.
Implications of this Theory and Others Like it
If this theory is correct or presumed to be correct, will it offer an excuse for further suppression or outright elimination of any remaining constitutional protections for citizens? The importance of that question has no bearing on the validity of the theory presented by G2geek. It is an important question, nevertheless.
Based on the wholesale evisceration of the Constitution, particularly since 2000, and the flair with which that was done, we can assume that those in charge require little of any justification for their actions. At the same time, the trend toward even less liberties and rights might be accelerated with this as an excuse. This argues for more research solid proof of the theory.
We need to understand the role of nihilistic rhetoric, rhetoric that inflames those with the ability to act and the lack of ability to discriminate how they act.
Those who engage in the nihilistic, violence laden rhetoric, and they know who they are, need to show some restraint and common decency.
We also need to address the much broader issue of violence that is carried out in our name, as citizens, and the level of damage that has done around the world. As it stands now, the elected officials carrying out that violence are the same officials who will shape the assessment and solutions to the problems of politically motivated violence. We could do a lot better.
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