This weekend, the term “stochastic terrorism” came up twice in my Twitter feed, once accusing me of it and once accusing Governor Roy Cooper of it. I didn’t really know what it meant. I’ve heard the term in the back-and-forth on social media, but only had a vague sense that it meant encouraging violence through rhetoric. If you had asked me what it was before this weekend, I could not have told you.
If I’m not that familiar with the term, I doubt much of the general public is, either. In fact, I doubt seriously most Democrats know what it means. However, apparently most conservatives know exactly what it means and believe they’ve been widely, and unjustly, accused of stochastic terrorism.
When I Googled the term, I found three broad categories of articles. The first were academic papers, discussing the definition and debating its legitimacy. The second were accusations of stochastic terrorism by a relatively small number of mainly left-leaning activist groups and publications, usually in relations to hate crimes. And third was a bunch of articles by conservatives denouncing being accused of committing stochastic terrorism.
Let me say here, that after reading about it, I don’t believe stochastic terrorism is really a thing, no matter what the academics say. Speech is not violent and people have free will. They can be incited to violence, but until someone says to do something, no amount of badgering or hate speech can be responsible for the actions of individuals or mobs. Actions or calls to action, not mere opinions, no matter how disgusting, are punishable, not speech. If we start prosecuting people for what they say, we’re heading down a slippery slope toward seriously curtailing free speech and the First Amendment.
Stochastic terrorism is another manufactured outrage by the right. They are victims again, this time for being called out for using racist or demeaning rhetoric. They are using it to fire up their base and justify their victimization and bad behavior.
That said, the left are suckers for these types of arguments. They get pulled into fights over stuff that most people know little about. It’s helped define the left, and by association the Democratic Party, as out of touch.
In this fight, most people never hear the details. All they hear is that those on the left want to limit free speech and then activists and academics trying to defend and clarify their positions. The right wants to keep to talking about it because they know the argument defines the left as intolerant in the minds of many people in the middle.
Critical Race Theory was a similar fight. It served its purpose to drive a wedge between middle-of-the-road voters and Democrats in the Virginia governor’s race. Most people barely heard the argument but what they heard was that activists wanted to teach a version of history that shamed White people. Fortunately, the CRT debate seems to have largely run its course as a campaign issue even if fights about curriculum will continue.
Another of these fights is drag queens. Most people don’t care about drag queens, but most people also identify drag as adult entertainment. They don’t necessarily think its overtly sexual, but they also don’t think it’s appropriate for children. For some reason, the left decided to embrace drag queen story time for children. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Personally, I could not care less whether someone takes their kids to shows with drag queens. I probably wouldn’t take my kids, but that’s because I’m not interested in drag shows of any kind. Other people, though, see the whole phenomena as bizarre and a reflection of values they do not share. They don’t want their elementary school-aged kids being entertained by drag queens. The right is successfully driving a wedge between a middle that hasn’t thought much about drag queens and a left that thought it was worth elevating the fight.
Finally, the fight over care for transgender kids is another fight that the right will win with the middle, at least in the near term. Again, most people aren’t thinking much about gender dysphoria or transgenderism. However, the majority don’t believe we should be performing surgeries on teens. The left took the bait and are loudly declaring that anyone who questions hormone or surgical treatment for teenagers is anti-trans. That’s a pretty big majority of voting age adults.
The right has become very good at starting fights over concepts and problems that don’t affect most Americans and then suckering the left into elevating the debate. Stochastic terrorism and Critical Race Theory are more academic debates full of nuance, but the right has dragged them into the public sphere as examples of the left either shutting down speech or imposing their views. Drag queens are a form of risqué entertainment that used to be performed primarily for gay men. For some reason, the left wants to try to make it wholesome. I don’t really get it. Treating teens for gender dysphoria and transgenderism really should be for doctors and the very small portion of the population being treated, but it’s become a national debate that the left has already lost in the near term, even if they don’t know it yet.
While the left should learn to pick its fights better, opinions may start shifting toward Democrats. Abortion bans and gun control are becoming more important in the minds of middle-of-the-road voters than these more abstract concepts like stochastic terrorism or CRT. Voters are mostly self-interested and if they believe school shootings are more of a threat than drag queens, even if they don’t like drag queen story hour, then they will vote against the party unwilling to protect their kids.