Without stepping on Zandar’s post from yesterday, I do want to approach the overall topic from a different angle. While the emerging reports seem to indicate that the Kansas bomb carrier was not actually trying to blow up the clinic, the news rightly put everyone’s antenna up. Whether we are talking about shootings or other attacks at movie theaters, the attack on the Chattanooga recruiting center and military facility, the Charleston church shooting, or other actions that seem to fall in between what we would define as crimes against persons, hate crimes, and/or terrorism, there certainly seems to be a buzz in the air. Both here in the US and abroad. Back in 2011 the term stochastic terrorism started to make the rounds. There was even a blog devoted to it; albeit one that was a one post and done website. While I think the term stochastic terrorism has descriptive merit, what we have been watching develop and unfold is actually one step back from stochastic terrorism – we have been observing stochastic violence. We have so much noise to signal right now, and so many more platforms for transmission of messages that have the ability to enflame and incite, that it is easy for aggrieved parties, including those with mental health issues, to lock onto something and ride it as motivation for an attack. Basically, we cannot and will not be able to predict exactly who might or might not undertake an act of mass violence – shooting, bombing, knifing, running down a crowd of folks in one’s car, etc, but we can be sure that these types of action will happen. This also includes political forms of violence like terrorism.
Stochastic violence is an unfortunate reality of the interconnected, 24/7 media and social media world we live in and it presents a unique challenge to the concept and practice of freedom of speech. While this is certainly a constitutional/foundational law issue in the US and some other states, it is definitely a real, complicating factor in trying to get a handle on the problem. It raises questions as to what, if anything should be regulated and who, if anyone, bears responsibility beyond the specific actor or actors involved in any given attack. These questions actually helped to create an earlier iteration of this type of political violence and terrorism: leaderless resistance. Louis Beam, back in the early 1980s, coined the term leaderless resistance to cover the concept of how to put white supremacist and eliminationist ideals into practice without the need to create a highly organized movement. His bottom line was that if you heard or read the message and were inspired to act on it, then just go and do it. Do not contact him or other white supremacist leaders for permission or join an organized and trackable group, just go and do whatever it is you think you are called to do. The idea was to have cake and eat it too. By using the messaging to inspire action, but have the actors not formally/objectively tied to any movement or individual leader, then one got the behavior one wanted, but the plausible deniability and lack of legal liability when whatever was planned actually occurred. One of the best examples of this was Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was clearly a subjective member of a number of white supremacist groups – he clearly identified with them. However, he never joined any of them, which is what made it hard to track him as outside of personal contacts (Mike from Michigan and the Ozarks supremacist community he was in contact with), he was basically an incredibly angry and resentful cypher. McVeigh and his co-conspirators were classic examples of leaderless resistance.
The concern now, though, is being expressed as the self radicalization of individuals leading to lone wolf attacks. This is basically the path/route taken by McVeigh, as well as Reverend Paul Hill who went from being abortion clinic protestor to abortion clinic shooter, the recent worry is about self radicalizing Muslim youth exposed to the online presence and messages of the Islamic State. While this is, certainly, a concern, what we have actually been seeing in the US, parts of Europe, Israel, and elsewhere is a lot of individuals, with only a portion of them being Muslim, engaging in violence to redress their real or imagined grievances. The process, regardless of who is being exposed to it, however, is the same one I wrote about here last year: neutralization of norms (definitions favorable) for normative, legal behavior to redress problems allowing for the potential lone wolves to drift into deviant, violent, and sometimes terroristic acts to solve their problems. The policy and strategy implications to dealing with this problem are complex, specifically because of our dedication to the concept and practice of freedom of speech. The policy outcome should be the reduction of lone wolf attacks, whether violent crimes, hate crimes, and/or terrorism, to as close to zero as possible regardless of the demographic of the perpetrator. However, that is going to be very difficult to achieve as the ways to achieve this end need to not do damage to the freedom of speech. As is so often the case, and in what seems to be a reverse of Beowulf, one of our greatest strengths is also one of our most exploitable weaknesses. I will leave you with Justice Brandeis’s wisdom on the matter: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Have people gotten more angry, hateful, and scared as an effect of the Internet, or is the internet simply a mirror, reflecting back at us how we always have been? Does the combined features of anonymity and information overload cause people to let themselves go further into hatred and fear, or have people always been that way with their private thoughts?
This is why liberals never accomplish anything without going crazy – they have to be in groups and have organizational meetings to have meetings. These BLM people are all over the map. Every simple problem has to be turned into a complex one. Everyone has to have their ‘voice’ and be enabled and stroked. Of course, too much of that and you end up with another Vietnam, Peoples’ Temple or Obamacare.
Unfortunately, too many Republicans seem only interested in slowing down this ‘progress’ and not putting things right.
That’s why we need another kind of President.
@srv: Word salad?
Obviously, one of the things that we can and should do to reduce the danger of lone wolf violence is to reduce the availability of the means of violence. We already keep a fairly effective lid on powerful explosives, but doing more to keep guns out of the hands of violently crazy people would be a nice next step.
Isn’t there a role for extremist groups, who give implicit or explicit permission to sympathetic people to commit lone wolf attacks? For the US, both reactionary racist and anti-government groups on the one hand, and radical Islamist on the other are relevant. If this Louis Beam person was first to popularize the idea in US, seems like extremist groups have picked up on the idea and have used it.
How much of the responsibility is on groups who use this tactic? How to control it? I think that still raises troubling issues in a free society, but at least more focused. Should the definition of incitement to violence be broadened? I haven’t followed it closely, but seems like that definition has already been broadened for Islamist groups abroad (and maybe here as well?), but not reactionary groups in the US.
@Gimlet: yes. with croutons.
The safe society that the overwhelming majority of Americans demand is in no way compatible with most of our Constitutional rights. Americans have already chosen – safety over liberty – but they don’t know/understand the price in rights that must be paid to realize that choice.
I’ll be honest – I don’t think this a fixable problem within the current confines of American constitutional government. When the pain point is reached – when the body count and financial damage gets too high – I think you’re going to see a lot of these rights thrown out in order to realize the goal of a safe society.
Along with that will come a “removal of access” to tools and materials that could be used for acts of mass violence. I know we screen for purchases of such tools and materials that are non-firearm, but it’s obvious that we do a terrible job of that. Otherwise, abortion-clinic bomb guy wouldn’t have been able to put together his device.
As always, top-shelf work, Mr. Silverman.
If the NSA just had more funding to get those last 10% of emails and phone calls they are presently missing.
In his book about Tolkien, Thomas Shippley coined the term ‘wraithing’: the giving over to an ideal to the point that you see both yourself and others as abstractions. Every time I think of Tim Mcveigh I of him as a wraith.
@Gimlet: He’s right about liberals. His current trolling persona demands adherence to a certain line of argument, and the inclusion of Obamacare, but I’m not going to say he’s wrong about the demonstrable fact that liberals love to solve problems by forming committees, drawing up action plans, and then talking about them until everyone dies of boredom and history has consigned said problems to the dustbin.
Not necessarily an either/or notion. I think it is very likely that more acute feelings of frustration and anger are being generated by our hyper-connectivity, but we need ways to evaluate and measure this to be sure.
That’s not a “demonstrable fact.”
Make a list of things in your daily life that “liberals” made possible and you’ll see what I mean, probably even before you run out of paper.
I think what the Internet is good at is allowing people with lots of pent-up anger or frustration to discover that they are not alone, and find a whole virtual community that agrees with them on what the problem is.
Where that goes afterwards is depends on the situation. There’s probably some situations where it actually prevented violence, where people were able to use Internet venting as a safety valve who might otherwise have kept it all pent up until the day it was just too much and they decided to shoot up a movie theater. But it can also turn people with ill-defined grievances into true fanatics and push them over the edge into violent action.
Part of my problem with the simple “more speech” construction is that we don’t have a society where arguments are immediately followed by counter-arguments. If we lived in a media environment that was actually filled with equal point and counterpoint, the anti-vaccine activist would be immediately followed by a scientist pointing out that the anti-vaxxer is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Instead, the anti-vaxxer is usually allowed to speak without being challenged and then the scientist tries to speak at a later time in a different venue to a different audience to rebut what the anti-vaxxer said. Add in a news media that’s unwilling to call a lie a lie (Death panels! Opinions differ!) and we land in a pretty crazymaking stew where opinions outweigh facts and everything is given equal weight as long as it’s on TV or the internet.
“enabled and stroked” is my second-favorite dressing.
What Chris said. It used to be that Holocaust denialists or anti-vaccine activists had to pass around newsletters or self-publish books to be heard. Now they can set up a free blog and find like-minded people from all over the world.
Do you remember the guy who tried to kidnap Elie Wiesel back in 2007? He was a guy who hung out on a lot of Holocaust denial websites and message boards and eventually decided to act since everyone else was just standing by. Same with the guy in South Carolina. He found like-minded assholes who egged him on, though they probably never realized he was actually crazy enough to kill people instead of keeping his braggadocio on the internet like the rest of us.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): So I’d like to hear your solution.
Limiting access to weapons would be the most rational thing to do in an environment where there are no limits on free speech, but having both free speech and free access to guns pretty much means we have to resign ourselves to people being randomly murdered with no ability whatsoever to stop it.
There’s also the general problem that liars can spew their lies a lot faster than anyone can refute them. The proper response for this is for people to keep track of who is a lying liar and refuse to give them the time of day once they’ve been identified, but the media refuses to do so. They’ll keep inviting people back because they’re colorful and provoke exciting responses, even when it’s obvious that they’re just slinging bullshit.
Or to use the old engineering construction: we can have free speech, free access to weapons, and fewer mass killings — pick two. Right now, we as a society have picked 1 and 2. Now we have to live with that decision.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): Yep. Concisely and nicely put.
If it is your conjecture that the net only allows for the connectivity of the already angry, I won’t agree.
Yes, the already disturbed can associate with fellow ax-grinders.
And as well, experience, new information, and perception can change the way a person thinks, creating a new emotional environment receptive to ideas that previously may not have been of interest.
Even gun fans acknowledge we can’t have both free speech and free access to weapons — that’s what the whole an armed society is a polite society phrase means.
It does both. Hence “turning people with ill-defined grievances into true fanatics.”
A guy who’s just generally anti-Obama because reasons (the President’s black, health insurance isn’t working out despite Obamacare, wev…) can find himself a good anti-Obama website… after which he’ll be bombarded day in and day out with news about all the latest atrocities Obama’s committed, lots of information about how he’s not just a bad president but a sinister Muslim conspirator on the verge of abolishing all our freedoms, in fact, all our freedoms have already been abolished or might as well have been and we all need to think Second Amendment Solutions, because the election isn’t going to save us, the Republicans are all sellouts anyway…
And there you go, fanatic created.
@Chris: What about one who is Obama agnostic?
The “hook”/gateway drug can be anything.
Tom Metzger lost big bucks in a civil suit for egging people on to murder.
Not sure why there are not more of these
@Gene108: Metzger actively instructed people to commit violence and as opposed merely suggesting that violence was called for. First Amendment jurisprudence draw a distinction between the two.
So, when you share these views over at Pat Lang’s blog, and guns come up in the discussion, what do you do then? Or do you refrain from trying to discuss this sort of thing? Everything you’re talking about leads to a common sense set of laws that should restrict your garden variety “lone wolf” irrational actor from being able to assemble an arsenal of firearms. Given what I know of how things are discussed over there, I can’t imagine you get a lot of sympathy for keeping guns out of the hands of people who make public anti-government statements, refuse to pay their grazing fees, and generally worship at the altar of cop-killing ammunition.
You can also opine on the sort of racism one can find over there as well. I’m shocked that you’re posting on both sites, to be quite honest with you.
I wish I knew the answer. If you label the sites, ISIS, then the media might pay attention. When Janet Napolitano went before Congress, she was mocked because she mentioned former military members could be radicalized. That was years after McVeigh.
I do disagree with your term stochastic violence. It’s a fine line between violence and terrorism.
@wjs: Lang’s first question is always “how did he get the gun?” and what act or failure of law allowed the killer to operate.
Of course, liberals never look at that. They just want to slap another law out for the feels.
McVeigh didn’t use a gun, so gun control would not have helped there.
A Humble Lurker
Would’ve helped in a lot of other cases, though.
@A Humble Lurker:
Not to mention that, after McVeigh committed his crime, much stricter regulations were put on the purchase of fertilizer in quantities sufficient to build a bomb.
Now imagine if the fertilizer manufacturers had the same kind of political pull as the gun manufacturers do via their lobbying group, the NRA. We’d probably be seeing an Oklahoma City-sized bombing every few years, with the usual suspects shrugging it off as the price of our free access to explosive materials.
@Benw: it’s how we’ve always been. Well, at least since the anarchist movements of the late 1800s popularized propaganda of the deed – which was mostly just assassination of the rich and powerful. Before that, there were always random race and religion riots. Read the decline and fall by Gibbon; seems like most of the byzantine empire was random violence.
Adam L Silverman
@wjs: I’m not posting on both sites, I’m posting here and will no longer be posting there. As I’ve said before: COL Lang was one of the people who trained me and while I don’t always agree with him, I’m not going to air that here. As for gun related issues on his site, in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston shooting he put up a post where he made it clear that the time had come to begin the discussion on reasonable firearms regulations (I’m paraphrasing).
Adam L Silverman
@JPL: terrorism is a specific type of violence, just like its a specific type of low intensity warfare (as is revolution, rebellion, and insurgency). So one can have stochastic violence as well as the specific subset of stochastic terrorism.
Adam L Silverman
@srv: that’s actually not a bad question, but it can’t be the only question.
@srv: Oh, well, that solves everything. Straw man much?
I personally don’t think “gun control” actually works. What I do think would work is an actual law that had the cooperation of state and local governments that would remove guns from people convicted of domestic assault or treated for mental illness.
If you don’t have a domestic assault charge against you (I’ll compromise and say conviction if your fee-fees are hurt) and if you’re not under the care of a physician who has prescribed to you any drug related to managing mental illness or a mental disorder, you can own whatever fucking gun you like. Strip naked and bathe in baby oil with it–that’s on you, dawg.
When a viable attempt to pass a law preventing the mentally ill from having guns was proposed, the butt-hurt of real patriots everywhere was broadcast from every mountaintop in the land. As well as it should–free speech is fine and dandy.
But don’t walk around in a self-congratulating lather every time someone has an idea to protect public safety by taking a gun away from someone who would either beat their wife or their child or from someone out of their fucking mind. If you’re cool with those folks going around strapped, hey. Free speech is for you, too. Pardon the fuck out of some folks who think otherwise.
I know you would like to wave around guns and take away our free speech, too. I’m cool with that. It’s not like there are any laws against that either, right?
@Adam L Silverman: Oh, so the overt racism got to you, too? Well, I don’t blame you. Being an academic means having to choose your company wisely.
I’m drawing a blank, so can anyone list a few instance of true left wing violence or terrorism in the USA which was clearly motivated by a left wing ideology? In the past 30 years?
I know the 60’s and early 70’s had some, but since Reagan, I can’t think of any.
What about so-called “eco-terrorism”? Does that fit your description?
@redshirt: All them dudes who trashed Hummers, PETA throwing paint on people in fur, people chaining themselves to trees in order to save endangered forests–those people are the real terrorists. And funny how none of them had guns but they drew the ire of people who look the other way when crazy people shoot up stuff.
@Cervantes: I guess it does. Can you name any examples where people were murdered or killed?
Countries with strong gun control (like Canada) don’t have these mass shootings.
The solution seems simple.
Ted Kaczynski probably counts as one of the few avowedly left-wing killers since the days of the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army, though he didn’t use a firearm. That’s about it.
Mandatory liability insurance at point of sale, with rates at a sliding scale after the first, say, two items. Bolt-action or breech-loading hunting rifles insured at the lowest rates, handguns and semiautomatic rifles, maybe also according to clip size, being more expensive to insure. That’s not an infringement on the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. It’s not even a limit on the number of shootin’ irons one can own. But bulding an arsenal will get expensive real quick. Rates go up a lot if the firearm is reported to have been involved in an accidental injury, and the person becomes uninsurable if a firearm is used in a crime.
Adam L Silverman
@WJS: I’m not an academic. I don’t work at a university and while I’ve occasionally taught classes for the Army, and did so as part of my responsibilities at US Army War College, it wasn’t the reason I was assigned there and was only about a quarter of what my duties were. As for why I’m no longer involved there, again: that’s between COL Lang and myself.
Adam L Silverman
@bjacques: Kaczynski was actually a serial killer who’s crimes occurred because of untreated mental illness. The details of what motivated his bombings, specifically the delusions that developed from his untreated delusions and psychosis, are much closer to those of the Son of Sam killer than to any other Eco-terrorists.
@Adam L Silverman: No worries. I applaud you for being honest and forthright. These are rare qualities on the Internet.
Adam L Silverman
@CONGRATULATIONS!: Adam is fine – no need to be formal. And thanks.