The science of human communication is a constant quest for answers. New words are created by members of the public and added to languages every year by respected dictionary publishers. One such example, coined by an anonymous blogger in 2010 and added in 2018 to Dictionary.com by Random House Inc., is the term Stochastic Terrorism.
This newly specified type of action describes public demonization of an individual, a group, or any ‘others’ outside of one’s own tribe which results in the incitement of violent actions against those parties. Specifically, the word stochastic implies a random variable. Stochastic Terrorism is an act of terrorism which is a statistically-probable outcome of listening to hateful rhetoric, but cannot be specifically predicted on an individual level.
This term has been used recently to describe Trump’s style of rhetoric and the possible causal link to consequences like incited violence. While there is no fair way to say that listening to a Trump rally will definitely or always cause a supporter to commit acts of domestic terrorism against Trump’s rhetorical enemies, stochastic terrorism is a useful descriptor for why these events are still linked to Trump’s actions. The greater the number of supporters that listen to Trump call for the demonization of some group, the more the statistical likelihood that one of his supporters will act on Trump’s insistence of division approaches one. All it takes is one person. One supporter who believes that Trump wants them to actually harm these groups. One bomber.
There is a well-known law against shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded room. We should all be aware of the difference between causing a panic in a Petri dish and inciting violence against another person with nationalist rhetoric. But, the juxtaposition is a fair comparison. Trump skirts legal implications by indirectly calling for division, and stomps on empathy for other groups by demonizing them. He is shouting to a world full of perfectly sane people hoping that just a few of them are close enough to the edge of sanity to act on his veiled insinuations that our country would be better off without certain peoples. I make no claim to have access to Trump’s thoughts or intentions, but the devil is in the details. Actions may speak louder than words, but words can cause harm too.
The power of rhetoric has been known since ancient Greece. When Plato first described the eloquent nature of Socrates’ arguments he did so to instruct other aristocrats in the ways to achieve power. Philosophers, religious leaders, and politicians today all recognize that power transfer happens using simple words more than any other action. The Nazis started vilifying Jews by comparing them to animals, rats specifically. And, though many might doubt Trump’s understanding of the mechanisms behind communication theory, he and his advisors certainly understand the powerful effect hateful rhetoric has for furthering their agendas.
I will end by answering the claim that Republicans are innocent, or only speaking their opinions out loud. If words were as innocent and powerless as they defensively imply, then mass media would have been without capital since the 1920s. Most television, radio, and film have been funded through advertising. Simple words and images streamed to your living rooms for almost a century. I would ask defenders of nationalism, white-supremacy, and the Republican party to explain how advertising gets people to buy products if words have no effect on people? Or to answer their colossal spending on campaign ads? Or why they bother to hold rallies at all? They can’t possible believe that speaking certain words will not have consequences.
Donald Trump is directly, and statistically-provable, responsible for every single act of violence committed against the people he spews hatred at. As our Commander in Chief he is a role model who gives permission to people of all ages to do, say, and act as he does. And it only takes one listener to go too far beyond free speech, into free action. When you speak about another person you are affecting their lives. The Founding Fathers only intended to limit free speech protections to government censorship of the free press because they knew words have power. And Donald Trump needs to accept some level of culpability in the tragedies that happened under his watch.