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Stochastic terrorism

Page type: Sociocultural
Category: Politics

Indirect violence

"Stochastic terrorism" is the name given to the link between hate speech and acts of indiscriminate violence motivated by hate speech[1].

The word "stochastic", meaning "randomly determined", is used due to the unpredictable nature of the violence: the more a political discourse targets a specific group, the more likely that group is to become the victim of violent attacks and even terrorism, but the specific details of the violence which might happen cannot be predicted until it is too late[2].

Case study: Trumpism in the USA

The most well known case of stochastic terrorism in the USA is the January 6 insurrection . Former president Donald Trump rejected his loss in the presidential elections, and kept claiming that the election results were the consequences of fraud, that his opponent had "stolen" the presidency from him. Further escalating his discourse, he suggested enacting martial law, and called for his supporters to protest[3].

When his supporters actually stormed the Capitol building on January 6th, leading to 5 dead and over a hundred injuries, Donald Trump did not intervene, rather silently waiting for the events to unfold. Two years later, a report came to the conclusion that, despite his lack of direct involvement, he was responsible for this attempted coup and the resulting casualties[4].

Much less talked about, many other acts of stochastic violence have been motivated by Donald Trump's hate speech[5]. They did not solely target his political opposition, but also several groups of people, which he constantly demonized and "othered". For example, a year after repeatedly calling COVID-19 the "China virus", over 9000 acts of anti-Asian violence had been reported in the USA[6].

Not so random?

Despite the randomness implied by the word "stochastic", the choice of targets is always very deliberate.

In 2019, a man opened fire in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and injuring 40[7], his manifesto revealed that the attack had been planned for years, with the target location selected months prior.

In 2019 and 2022, two related mass shootings happened in the USA. One, in El Paso, killed 23 in a Hispanic night club[8]. The other one, in Buffalo, killed 10 black people in a supermarket[9]. Despite never having met or interacted with the Christchurch shooter, both were regulars of the same Internet communities, influenced by the same media, supporters of the same fringe politicians and political theories, and all three ended up carrying similarly motivated terrorist attacks[10].

When hate speech encourages violence, there is no randomness in the choice of targets. This is why it came as no surprise when, in 2023, supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country's Supreme Court and National Congress . Jair Bolsonaro had been using the same type of discourse that Donald Trump used before the January 6 capitol attacks, and it eventually led to a similar result: a violent coup attempt with a toll of over 80 injured[11].

Far-right terrorism

Since the late 2010s, far-right terrorism has been on the rise in high income countries, becoming a major concern in the 2020s. Quantifying this rise, the Global Terrorism Index found a 320% increase in far-right terrorism in high income countries between 2015 and 2019[12].

In the United Kingdom, far-right terrorism became the main source of counter-terrorism referrals in 2021[13]. In France, 1300 people were under far-right terrorism related surveillance in 2022[14]. In Germany, far-right terrorism became the biggest extremist threat in 2022[15].

Given the increasing visibility of far-right politicians spreading white nationalist speech in media, it comes as no surprise that these acts of violence are on the rise. Since individual acts of stochastic terrorism are hard to prevent[16], this wave of far-right violence will keep happening as long as hate speech is normalized, widespread, and even encouraged in mainstream media and political spheres[17].

Sources & Links

[1] Stochastic terrorism on Wiktionary.

[2] Stochastic terrorism on Dictionary.com

[3] January 6 United States Capitol attack on Wikipedia.

[4] Trump responsible for US Capitol insurrections: Jan. 6 report by Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA on Daily Sabah.

[5] Assault on Nancy Pelosi's husband is dangerous escalation of political violence because individuals now feel 'empowered' to carry out these acts alone, extremism expert says by Erin Snodgrass and Charles R. Davis on Insider.

[6] More Than 9,000 Anti-Asian Incidents Have Been Reported Since The Pandemic Began by The Associated Press on NPR.

[7] Christchurch mosque shootings on Wikipedia.

[8] 2019 El Paso shooting on Wikipedia.

[9] 2022 Buffalo shooting on Wikipedia.

[10] The Buffalo Shooter, Stochastic Terrorism, and How to Counter It by Todd Morley on Small Wars Journal.

[11] 2023 Praça dos Três Poderes attack on Wikipedia.

[12] Far-Right Terrorism Increase in the West Explained on Vision of Humanity.

[13] More Prevent referrals linked to far-right extremism than Islamist on The Guardian.

[14] INFO RTL - Ultradroite : 1 300 militants sont désormais fichés S by Thomas Prouteau on RTL.

[15] German far-right growing and more prone to violence by Reuters on Euronews.

[16] Why is it so difficult to fight domestic terrorism? 6 experts share their thoughts on The Conversation.

[17] Philosophical and Public Security Law Implications of ‘Stochastic Terrorism’ by Dr. James Angove on Max Planck Institute.

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