David S. Cohen writes: One day after his widely discussed “reboot” in which he did nothing more than read basic Republican economic talking points from a teleprompter, Donald Trump uttered perhaps his most outrageous – and dangerous – ad-lib yet. And that’s saying something for a campaign in which he’s criticized John McCain for being a prisoner of war, characterized Mexicans as rapists, called for banning Muslims from coming into the country, picked a fight with a Gold Star family and urged Russia to hack his political opponent.
Speaking to a crowd in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tuesday, Trump expressed concern about Hillary Clinton possibly picking Supreme Court justices and other judges. He then said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”
Let that soak in for a second. One of the two major-party nominees for president just called for “Second Amendment people” to “do” something about his political opponent’s judges. According to the Trump campaign’s rapid response team, he was talking about those “Second Amendment people” coming together politically – “unification,” as they called it. The Clinton campaign, and pretty much the entire Internet, saw it differently: as a clear suggestion of violence against a political opponent.
It’s hard not to side with the Clinton campaign here. What Trump said was that a particular group – those who are defined by rallying around guns – should do something about Clinton and her judicial nominees. What can people who rally around guns do that’s different than others? Use those guns.
But it’s really irrelevant what Trump actually meant, because enough people will hear Trump’s comments and think he’s calling for people to take up arms against Clinton, her judges or both. Though most of the people hearing that call may claim he was joking, given what we know about people taking up arms in this country, there will undoubtedly be some people who think he was serious and consider the possibility.
In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism. This is an obscure and non-legal term that has been occasionally discussed in the academic world for the past decade and a half, and it applies with precision here. Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
Let’s break that down in the context of what Trump said. Predicting any one particular individual following his call to use violence against Clinton or her judges is statistically impossible. But we can predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears his call and takes action in the future.
Stated differently: Trump puts out the dog whistle knowing that some dog will hear it, even though he doesn’t know which dog. [Continue reading…]