Normal terrorism is defined as follows:
Stochastic terrorism is more subtle:
As Wikipedia goes on to say, “Unlike incitement to terrorism, this is accomplished by using indirect, vague, or coded language that allows the instigator to plausibly disclaim responsibility for the resulting violence.”
This article considers two prominent politicians and asks, are they guilty of stochastic terrorism?
- In the case of Trump, it is clear that he frequently used phrases which explicitly seemed to endorse or incite violence – but he also ensured plausible deniability;
- Braverman has been slightly more careful – she has often used demonising language, and has failed to condemn violence when it comes from the far right, but has stopped short of explicitly calling for it;
- Trump is now on trial, but although Braverman has just been sacked again, there is as yet no investigation or trial underway in her case.
Trump repeatedly proposed, endorsed or condoned violence
From the very beginning of his election campaign, Trump used phrases which sought to demonise certain groups: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
In August 2015, when they were arrested for urinating on a homeless man and beating him with a metal pipe, two brothers from Boston said that their actions were inspired by Trump: “Trump was right. All of these illegals need to be deported.” The 58-year-old Mexican American they assaulted was a legal US resident.
Later, in November 2015, at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump demanded the removal of Black activist Mercutio Southall Jr. after Southall yelled, “Black lives matter!” Trump called out from the stage, “Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here! Throw him out!” In a CNN video, Southall fell to the ground as Trump made his statements and white men appeared to kick and punch him. Trump’s comment on this was to say, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a troublemaker who was looking to make trouble.”
During the campaign, many assumed that while he might campaign in poetry, he would go on to govern in prose. But throughout his Presidency he appeared to support or at least condone violence, especially against racial minorities.
August 2017 saw the Black Lives Matter march in Charlottesville which was attacked by white supremacists who had marched through the streets carrying flaming torches, screaming racial epithets and setting upon their opponents. During the rally, a Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Trump’s response seemed to equate the white supremacists who marched as part of a “Unite the Right” rally with the left-wing protesters who demonstrated against them, saying “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
In May 2020, according to former Defense Secretary Mark Esper when, following the murder of George Floyd, demonstrators were filling the streets around the White House, Trump said: “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”
And of course, the most famous example is the speech he made on January 6, 2021, just before the attempted insurrection at the Capitol. The vast bulk of the speech is devoted to a litany of false claims that the election had been stolen from him and that the Biden campaign was guilty of widespread electoral fraud. He repeatedly talked of fighting to “take back” the country, saying, for example, “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore”.
Here is the final paragraph of his speech:
“And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.
Our exciting adventures and boldest endeavors have not yet begun. My fellow Americans, for our movement, for our children, and for our beloved country. And I say this despite all that’s happened. The best is yet to come.
So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol, and we’re going to try and give. The Democrats are hopeless, they never vote for anything. Not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help. We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.
So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.
I want to thank you all. God bless you and God Bless America.”
But even within all of this, he maintained a fig-leaf of plausible deniability: buried in the early part of his speech is this sentence, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Braverman has been slightly more careful
In October 2020, Braverman, then attorney general for England and Wales, was briefed in detail on how hate speech by senior politicians could lead to a terrorist risk – she is not ignorant of the workings of stochastic terrorism. The briefing followed an alleged terror plot against a law firm shortly after Priti Patel, then home secretary, had claimed that “activist lawyers” were frustrating the removal of failed asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, when asked in January 2023 by holocaust survivor Joan Salter why she used language about asylum seekers reminiscent of that used to describe the Jews before and during WWII,
“When I hear you using words against refugees like ‘swarms’ and an ‘invasion’, I am reminded of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others. Why do you find the need to use that kind of language?”
Braverman’s reply was unapologetic:
“I won’t apologise for the language that I have used to demonstrate the scale of the problem. I see my job as being honest with the British people and honest for the British people. I’m not going to shy away from difficult truths nor am I going to conceal what is the reality that we are all watching. … We must accept the enormity of the problem if we’ve got any chance of solving it.”
Looking at the language of the 1930s and comparing it with Braverman’s, it is clear that Salter had a good point.
“I condemn the appalling disorder in Knowsley last night. The alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation.”
In April, Braverman made a claim – subsequently ruled misleading by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) – in the Daily Mail, that child grooming gangs were “almost all British-Pakistani men.” Extraordinarily, rather than apologising, Braverman’s team counter-attacked: “It’s a perverse decision that requires a wilful misreading of the piece and is clearly a political attack, co-opting IPSO, from the Muslim Council of Britain.” The Muslim Council pointed out that any clarification should make clear that the Home Office’s own research, published in 2020, had found group-based child sexual offenders were mainly white.
More recently, she started targeting the homeless – but still managing to imply that this is an immigration issue:
“We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice.”
And right up until Armistice Day – a day originally commemorating the WWI armistice and later extended to include the fight against fascism in WWII – she repeatedly called the marchers calling for a ceasefire (an armistice) in Gaza “hate marchers.” A cross-party group of MPs recently called out her language, warning that she is inspiring the far-right to engage in Islamophobia. She even went so far as to claim in an article which Number 10 has explicitly said it did not approve, that the police play favourites with pro-Palestinian groups and allow “pro-Palestinian mobs to go largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law.”
The response the MPs had warned about duly transpired: though the pro-cease-fire march was peaceful, a group of far-right protesters, some of them led by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League (EDL), who had called for EDL supporters to assemble in the capital, broke violently through the police cordon surrounding the Cenotaph shouting at the police, “England ‘til I die,” “You let your country down” and “You’re not Engerland any more!”
The police described the violence as follows:
“There is a remembrance event underway at the Cenotaph. Officers have prevented those not involved getting onto Whitehall so it can take place without disruption, as we committed. They have faced unacceptable violence, including people throwing missiles and a metal barrier. Those using violence made no effort to use the pavement, which is open along the full length of Whitehall on one side, in order to watch the event taking place. They were solely intent on confronting officers.“
Are they Stochastic terrorists?
In the case of Trump, there is a trial underway in the US to determine his innocence or guilt in the January 6 insurrection. This trial would not, of course, be taking place if the insurrection had succeeded and Trump were still in office.
In the UK, although Braverman has just been sacked again, there is no investigative process in place, so as it stands there will be no official verdict.
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