Monday, December 12, 2022

Stochastic Terrorism: The New Term Of Art For Thought Crime

theatlantic  |   If leaders have to answer for the violence they inspire, they will have a harder time gaining traction in the future. Since the beginning of the Trump era, far-right groups have recruited new members with fantasies of armed conflict; adherents are convinced that they can be on the winning side of history. Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, floundered for years until the Oath Keepers found kinship with the Trump movement and with Trump himself, who flirted with extremist groups before fully embracing them after his election loss. This week’s verdict further dispels the idea that the Oath Keepers are winners in any way. Every criminal conviction of figures implicated in the January 6 attack at any level—even on the misdemeanor charges facing some rank-and file rioters—helps discourage would-be recruits from seeing militia groups as a path to glory.

Although the jury likely did not debate the intricacies of how violence works, Rhodes’s conviction is a condemnation of stochastic terrorism—a technique the Oath Keepers share with the Islamic State. Leaders of such groups incite their followers in ways that make bloodshed all but inevitable, even if the specifics of how the violence will play out are unknowable beforehand.

In recent weeks, right-wing commentators have criticized the very notion of stochastic terrorism, treating it as just another broad accusation that Trump’s political opponents level against the former president and his supporters. Yet Rhodes’s trial points to a highly specific way in which some groups incite and normalize violence. They have used tools of intimidation, such as wearing military costumes and brandishing weapons, to achieve political goals—while also acting like what they’re doing is no big deal. Casual threats of civil war, when coupled with the means to wage it, are no longer casual. The standard for criminal conviction for promoting violence is justifiably high, but some leaders of some groups act egregiously enough to reach it.

Rhodes’s jury made a statement for the future. Although a single criminal case will not deter all hate and violence, a series of similar verdicts could significantly hamper violent groups’ ability to organize. Fomenting a bloody riot isn’t a game, and it isn’t mere protest. Criminal prosecution will find you.

 

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