“Stochastic terrorism”


Donald Trump, Laconia Rally, photo Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons

It can’t have escaped most people’s notice that a candidate for the President of the United States — that male one — has just issued a veiled threat in his most recent campaign speech, apparently and obliquely inciting his followers to take violent action against his political rival, and in so doing he has engaged in what some might call an act of “stochastic terrorism”.

What does “stochastic terrorism” mean? Well let’s first take a look at the word stochastic, an adjective defined by the OED as “randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.” That describes a fairly heady mathematical concept, and one that doesn’t seem to have much to do with terrorism — until you pair it with that sadly ubiquitous noun, as G2Geek did in 2011 when he/she wrote a single-post blog with that phrase as its title: Stochastic Terrorism. Whether G2Geek coined the term — or simply defined an already existing but nameless phenomenon — in that post and in a subsequent DailyKos article is a little unclear. But here is G2Geek’s definition as outlined and explained in their diary entry:

1. The use of mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable [Glosso’s bolding]. 2. Remote-control murder by lone wolf.

“You heat up the waters and stir the pot, knowing full well that sooner or later a lone wolf will pop up and do the deed.  The fact that it will happen is as predictable as the fact that a heated pot of water will eventually boil.  But the exact time and place of each incident will remain as random as the appearance of the first bubbles in the boiling pot.”

Rolling Stone, in its analysis of Trump’s scary speech yesterday in North Carolina, wrote that stochastic terrorism is “an obscure and non-legal term that has been occasionally discussed in the academic world for the past decade and a half,” but the magazine lists only G2Geek’s post as its single citation. Perhaps more importantly, and certainly more ominously, Rolling Stone asserts confidently that the expression “applies with precision here.” That is, In the words and apparent intentions of Donald J. Trump.