On the Cover of the Rolling Stochastic Terrorism

By ann summerscpxz_5zwcaagzjy_1_

So whenever threats come up and/or actual events, this term gets tossed around: stochastic terrorism is an imprecise idea that while easily uttered and sounding scientistic, does not contain sufficient objectivity in a democracy that demands actionable expectation of intended, likely and imminent violence. Did Trump incite violence or more technically incite (stochastic) terrorism and did he do it via media? Are we becoming the unwitting agents in the continuation of violence.

In Wilmington, N.C., on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said: “Hillary wants to abolish—essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.”

In a general election campaign, Mr. Trump’s loose talk is treated differently. Donald Trump is the presidential nominee of a major political party. He is one of two people in this country with a realistic chance of becoming commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military. His words have greater weight and consequence. What was entertaining is understandably being called unpresidential.


And Trump’s own response…

When is the media going to talk about Hillary’s policies that have gotten people killed, like Libya, open borders, and maybe her emails?

Because what Trump has done is clear: He has incited violence against Hillary Clinton and/or her judges, even if he doesn’t know exactly who will carry that violence out.

1) demonized her whenever he can by calling her “Crooked Hillary” and constantly degrading her;

2) organized a convention around which the central theme, repeated over and over, was that Clinton is a criminal who needs to be locked up, clearly using fear and moral disgust as motivators; and

3) is now using violent metaphors (or “jokes,” if that’s what you think his statements were) against her, just short of an explicit call to arms.

Now we just have to hope that #4 doesn’t come about – that violence does not erupt. Though, if it does, we know exactly what Trump and his supporters will say: that they never could have foreseen this tragedy.

The problem is about this foresight and the need to have science-fiction thought-police plot clairvoyance or a time machine in terms of public safety / security. “But we can predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears his call and takes action in the future”

Can we really? Can we predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears Trump’s call and takes action in the future? What is true about this expectation? Should there be less/more proportional force in anticipation…

Hillary Clinton: tested, steady, fearless. Donald Trump panicked, afraid & chaos. Compare Secret Service videos.

So should we arrest Trump and/or should arrest/shoot to kill whoever attempts to carry out Trump’s directive within what what time frame. 

Naming our fear desensitizes it; however, if we rename the dog whistle with a mathematical term will it have more authority, even if it’s more about expectations to some but calling it Bayesian doesn’t sound analytic enough even if it is a misuse of the term, stochastic.

If it is media effect and also a trigger in the behaviorist context, is it symbolic violence with or without physical violence?

  • with physical violence it is more actionable
  • without physical violence it is less actionablebut

But is it always a media effect?

There are good and bad empirical examples with different agents — some mediators, some actors and are they identical to stochastic terrorists (and hence subject to the same sanctions and warrants)?

Some non-random media action/object causes some action that is predictable, yet it is also unpredictable, because…what….probability?

And more importantly, when applied to terroristic acts (which might not actually be terrorism(as political) because of indeterminacy) they are allowed to be similarly and imprecisely applied to the actions and objects both before and after their occurrence.

So Rolling Stone calling Trump a stochastic terrorist defined by bloggers has what real effect -— will someone try to affect a citizen’s anti-terrorist arrest on tehDonald or should folks be herded into FEMA camps because thought crimes.

In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism. This is an obscure and non-legal term that has been occasionally discussed in the academic world for the past decade and a half, and it applies with precision here. Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”

Let’s break that down in the context of what Trump said. Predicting any one particular individual following his call to use violence against Clinton or her judges is statistically impossible. But we can predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears his call and takes action in the future.

Stated differently: Trump puts out the dog whistle knowing that somedog will hear it, even though he doesn’t know which dog.

Those of us who work against anti-abortion violence unfortunately know all about this. Valerie Tarico wrote about this form of terrorism following the Planned Parenthood murders in Colorado Springs last November. The pattern she noted there is 100 percent applicable to Donald Trump and his supporters right now – except that we haven’t yet had the major act of violence at the end of the string.

“1. A public figure with access to the airwaves or pulpit demonizes a person or group of persons.
2. With repetition, the targeted person or group is gradually dehumanized, depicted as loathsome and dangerous—arousing a combustible combination of fear and moral disgust.
3. Violent images and metaphors, jokes about violence, analogies to past ‘purges’ against reviled groups, use of righteous religious language—all of these typically stop just short of an explicit call to arms.
4. When violence erupts, the public figures who have incited the violence condemn it—claiming no one could possibly have foreseen the ‘tragedy.'”


Is this eight year old boy a stochastic terrorist? #ManyPeopleAreSaying that when he gets to ninth grade, he might bring a home-made clock to school to show to his English teacher.


According to Scottsdale County Day School policy, drawings of weapons are grounds for expulsion.

The school handbook states that grounds for expulsion include ‘Any behavior that is deemed threatening such as violent behavior, drawings depicting weapons, blood, or aggression, or any verbal actions causing or threatening to cause harm to a person, group of persons, animal, or facility.’


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4 Responses to On the Cover of the Rolling Stochastic Terrorism

  1. General Michael Hayden, former head of both the NSA and CIA said today, “I used to tell my seniors at the CIA, you get to a certain point in this business, you’re not just responsible for what you say, you are responsible for what people hear,”

    That part is what concerns me, Especially in light of so many recent mass shootings, ranging from gay clubs to churches, to big city police. It was incitement that led to shootings in East Tennessee near where I live. The military recruiting center in Chattanooga, Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, and others.

    General Hayden added that if anyone else said what was said at that NC rally, they would be hauled off in the back of a van for an interrogation by the Secret Service.

    Source: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/hayden-donald-trump-second-amendment

    Consider the fact that a little kid can be expelled from first or second grade, or even hauled off to jail for far less than what Trump said today boggles the mind.

  2. bigfatmike says:

    “Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.”

    “sto·chas·tic: randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.”

    Can anyone distinguish stochastic terrorism from random terrorism?

    When journalists use stochastic terrorism are we given anymore information than if the journalist used random terrorism?

    Many of the statements I read on the internet suggest there is no real distinction between random and stochastic. Those statements seem to agree that the choice between stochastic and random has less to do with meaning of the terms than with the accepted terminology of the field.

    This statement caught my eye and clearly indicates a real difference in the meanings of the terms:

    “The term stochastic in Hydrology science refers to a process which periodically and apparently-independently happens but a kind of dependency exists. For example, if the flow of a river in last (say) 2 weeks has been low, it will probably be low in the next weeks too. So, the flow of a river is not a complete random variable but stochastic.”

    In our context, random terrorism would be acts of terrorism that are not just unpredictable but whose occurrence are unrelated to each other. The next occurrence of terrorism would be like the toss of a die and not predictable from any previous act of terrorism. If an act of terrorism occurs in Paris it is no more reasonable to believe the next act will occur in Paris than in New York or Istanbul.

    In contrast, acts of stochastic terrorism may be influenced but not determined by previous acts or states of terrorism eg if an act of terrorism occurs in Paris we might reasonably conclude that other acts will follow despite the fact that we do not know when or where in the city.

    Still, we are left with the question: is Trump inciting Stochastic terrorism or Random terrorism?

  3. BFM, the terms may be more or less interchangeable as you note. The first coherent article on stochastic terrorism as a term of art appears to be the 2011 article by our friend “G2geek,” although it was already in use for at least fifteen years. He is an engineer and scientist who is quite precise in his use of language.

    The use of the term “stochastic” gives the incitement to terrorism more specific focus than “random.” When we term a set of behaviors as stochastic terrorism, we are saying the shit-stirrer in question is ginning up violence against specific targets. As was pointed out in the 2011 piece, the target may be groups, organizations or people. It may be abortion doctors, politicians, churchgoers, military recruiters or police officers.

    The persons who actually do the attack end up arrested, imprisoned, dead on the scene, or executed. Those who incite them to act walk away whistling, claiming clean hands because they are careful to maintain deniability. The deniability may be plausible, or it may not, but the real actual terrorist survives to incite another day. Which brings us to a first amendment question. At what point do we come down on them.

    Retired General Michael Hayden had an observation, “I used to tell my seniors at the CIA, you get to a certain point in this business, you’re not just responsible for what you say, you are responsible for what people hear.”
    Source: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/hayden-donald-trump-second-amendment

  4. ann summers says:

    As we have seen, we don’t get as much precision in terms of incitement, so in the case of hate speech with respect to institutional violence as in anti-abortionism after the fact, the line of influence has less about the media acting as a mediated agent of a terrorist organization as it was actual connected felonious conspiracy to commit murder. When it becomes a trigger for the mentally unstable is when the public sphere needs to account for the “responsibility for what people hear”


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