Trump’s assassination dog whistle was an act of stochastic terrorism

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…]

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France’s emergency powers — the new normal

Letta Tayler writes: France’s latest renewal of its emergency law has made few headlines abroad—except perhaps in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fresh from passing his own sweeping state of emergency, may have relished watching the champion of liberté, égalité, and fraternité once again suspend rights in the name of security.

But European countries, rattled by a new spate of deadly attacks in France and Germany, may yet be tempted to turn to the new French law as a model. This would be a serious misstep on both legal and strategic grounds.

France’s parliament on July 22 did not simply extend the state of emergency that President Francois Hollande declared in the wake of the horrific Paris attacks last November. Propelled by the despicable Bastille Day attack a week earlier in Nice, lawmakers significantly expanded emergency powers of police search, seizure and detention. They also used the emergency powers act to slip more than a dozen new draconian counterterrorism provisions into French criminal law. In contrast to the emergency measures, which lapse in six months, these changes to France’s criminal codes are permanent.

There is no justification, ever, for attacks such as those in Nice and Paris, which together killed 214 people and wounded hundreds, or for tragic, smaller attacks that followed in Normandy and southern Germany. Whether the attackers are members of organizations like the Islamic State, lone wolves who heed such groups’ murderous calls, armed neo-fascists, or violent extremists of any other ilk, the authorities have a duty to protect people from such atrocities.

But governments must also take care not to overreact. Taken together, France’s rolling state of emergency and the amendments to criminal codes mark a perilous shift away from judicial safeguards against security force abuses. While every new attack increases the allure of tough responses, the new measures represent a serious step backward for human rights and the rule of law, playing directly to armed Islamist groups’ desires to divide the world along the stark lines of Western oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed. They also set a dangerous precedent for other governments, whether closer to home in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Turkey, or farther afield in Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

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British diplomat set to take on EU security portfolio

The Associated Press reports: Britain’s ambassador to France is set to take up a newly created European Union security portfolio, the EU’s executive arm announced Tuesday.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker wants Julian King to lead the institution’s fight against terrorism, organized crime and radicalization.

The post shares some tasks held by the commissioner for home affairs and migration issues but avoids any major activities that could be linked to Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU in coming years.

King is a career diplomat who has spent several years working at EU headquarters in Brussels. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis: Valuing money more than people ‘is a basic terrorism against all humanity’

Reuters reports: Pope Francis has said it was wrong to identify Islam with violence and that social injustice and idolatry of money were among the prime causes of terrorism.

“I think it is not right to identity Islam with violence,” he told reporters aboard the plane taking him back to Rome after a five-day trip to Poland. “This is not right and this is not true.”

The pope was responding to a question about the killing on 26 July of an 85-year-old Roman Catholic priest during a church service in western France. The attackers forced the priest to his knees and slit his throat. The killing was claimed by Islamic State.

“I think that in nearly all religions there is a always a small fundamentalist group,” he said, adding “We have them,” referring to Catholicism.

“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptised Catholics,” he said.

“If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent,” he said.

He said there were various causes of terrorism.

“I know it dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made a god and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy,” he said.

“That is the first form of terrorism. That is a basic terrorism against all humanity. Let’s talk about that,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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French politicians are using terrorism to score points ahead of election

By Jocelyn Evans, University of Leeds and Gilles Ivaldi, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis

Until recently, France’s politicians had largely presented a united front against terrorist attacks. Rarely did they use tragedy to score points off each other. But that has started to change over the past year. Now a political controversy has erupted in the wake of the massacre in Nice on Bastille Day 2016. It will no doubt be further fuelled by the killing of a Catholic priest near Rouen.

Within hours of the incident at a fireworks display in Nice, opposition politicians were rounding on the government. How was it that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was able to kill 84 people and wound hundreds by driving a truck into a festive crowd, even as the country lived under a state of emergency?

One was Christian Estrosi, the former mayor of Nice and a Republican right winger who supports former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Estrosi is currently leading the offensive against the government. “Lies are fuelling the controversy,” he said, referencing the contested number of national police and soldiers in Nice on the night of the attack. “If the state stops lying, there will no longer be a controversy.”

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In Germany, anti-Muslim extremists may pose as big a threat as Islamist militants

The Washington Post reports: When an 18-year old German Iranian killed nine people and then shot himself on Friday in Munich, speculation that it was an Islamist attack circulated for hours.

But doubts arose when a video was uploaded in which the attacker can be heard shouting: “I am German.”

On Wednesday, German media cited police sources as saying that they now had credible information that the attacker was a right-wing extremist who hated Arabs and Turks. Although he was not thought to have been associated with any right-wing groups, according to those media reports, the sources called him a “racist.” His victims were mostly foreigners.

It would not be the first time an anti-Muslim attacker has been mistaken for an Islamist extremist in Germany.

Germany is still wrestling with the anti-Muslim terror group National Socialist Underground (NSU), which killed 10 people — most of them Turks — between 2000 and 2007. Investigators had initially blamed Germany’s immigrant community for most of the deaths, characterizing them as the result of infighting and organized-gang activity.

Two of the NSU suspects later killed themselves; a third, Beate Zschäpe, is on trial in Munich. The attacks have fostered deep mistrust between Germany’s large immigrant community and authorities: The country’s intelligence services stand accused of having deliberately ignored clues that right-wing extremists had carried out the killings. [Continue reading…]

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French media explores ways of reducing ‘hero effect’ in its reporting on attacks

The Associated Press reports: Some leading French media outlets pledged Wednesday to stop publishing the names and images of attackers linked to the Islamic State group to prevent individuals from being inadvertently glorified, following a spate of attacks in France over the past 18 months.

The decisions, part of a wider French debate about how the news media might be contributing to the extremist threat, come as the French parliament debates whether to enshrine in law restrictions on the way the news media can cover “terrorist acts.”

The director of Le Monde, Jerome Fenoglio, said in an editorial that his newspaper would stop publishing photographs of attackers in a bid to prevent the “possible posthumous glorifying effects” and called for news media to exercise more responsibility. The newspaper already has a ban on publishing extracts of Islamic State propaganda or claims of responsibility emitted from IS’s media wing. [Continue reading…]

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Chorus of concern over Britain’s counter extremism strategy grows louder

By Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham

If worries about extremism in 2016 show no signs of abating, then neither does the debate over how to counter it in the UK. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, is the latest in a long line to raise concerns over government policy to tackle extremism. Although the government has promised to introduce a counter-extremism bill, none has yet been forthcoming.

In a report released on July 22, the committee flagged up a number of concerns about the government’s extremism strategy. These include the lack of a precise definition of extremism, the potential impact on universities, and the potential for religious discrimination. It also criticised the false premise of an “escalator” model in which there is a progression from holding conservative religious ideals to violent extremism.

The committee, made up of MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, called on the government to “reconsider” its counter-extremism strategy.

But the government may be reluctant to backtrack on an issue it has kept raising over the last few years. Since a 2011 speech in Munich warning against extremism by then-prime minister, David Cameron, the government has repeatedly pledged to target it. This year’s Queen’s speech continued the trend with promises to “tackle extremism in all its forms”, “provide stronger powers to disrupt extremists”, and “enable the government and law enforcement to protect the public against the most dangerous extremists.”

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Donald Trump’s wall, David Rieff’s long war, and the dangers of fear-mongering

David Cole writes: So it has come to this. In yesterday’s New York Times, David Rieff, a human rights skeptic, argued that in light of continuing terrorism across the world, Western democracies have only two choices: “either the wall Mr. Trump wants to build and the mass deportations that many right-wing European politicians have begun calling for, or a vast expansion of the national security apparatus.” The latter, he continued, “would require serious increases both in budgets and personnel and in the methods at their disposal.” It would also require sacrificing “a certain amount of our humanity,” although he did not specify which aspects of “our humanity” he would sacrifice. Absent such a “vast expansion,” Rieff maintains, the people will opt for the draconian approaches pressed by Trump and other right-wing demagogues. We must give the security forces more power if we are to deny Donald Trump power. There are no other options.

This is a remarkably dangerous argument. It comes on the heels of the Republican convention, in which Trump did all he could to fan the flames of fear, and immediately before the Democratic convention, in which Hillary Clinton will set forth her national security vision. Rieff is right that Trump’s fear-mongering cannot simply be ignored or dismissed. It demands a response. But Rieff’s solution – an unspecified but “vast” expansion of the national security state – is no different from Donald Trump’s wall. It is, on the one hand, a dramatic piece of theater, designed to make the masses think that the government is doing something. And at the same time, it is patently ill-conceived, and fails for the same reasons the wall would fail – it favors simple dramatic “solutions” over measures that address the full complexity of the issue. And most disturbingly, it concedes rather than challenges the fear-mongering, thus playing on Trump’s turf. [Continue reading…]

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Europeans ask if violence is becoming fact of life

The Wall Street Journal reports: In less than two weeks, Western Europe has witnessed the calm of everyday life repeatedly shattered by high-profile, indiscriminate acts of savagery, raising the sense that violence is becoming a new normal.

After the Bastille Day massacre in Nice, then an ax attack on a German train and a shooting spree in Munich, the list of violent acts grew again on Sunday not once, but twice. One Syrian asylum-seeker allegedly hacked a woman to death with a machete in southern Germany; police said it didn’t appear connected to terrorism. Then another Syrian asylum-seeker detonated a bomb outside a concert in Ansbach, killing himself and injuring others.

The motives and circumstances of each attack were different, but the string of violence has thrown Germany — until last week, mostly untouched by the terror that has struck its neighbors — into high alert, assured France will remain in a state of emergency through year’s end and poured fuel on an already contentious debate about Europe’s migration crisis and its security.

Friday’s attack in Munich was committed by Ali David Sonboly, an 18-year-old believed to have been in psychiatric care. He had taken an interest in mass killers such as Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway exactly five years before.

The Munich attack would be an exception in a year when Islamic State has either directed or inspired most of the terror attacks in Europe. The extremist group — which investigators say orchestrated the massacres in Paris and Brussels and inspired the truck attack in Nice — has promoted a particularly brutal form of terrorism: indiscriminate targets in civilian life, with the goal of killing as many people as possible.

That separates today’s violence from terror attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, when militant groups such as The Red Brigades in Italy, the Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain killed hundreds of people to advance their political goals.

Now the violence is an end in itself, said Raffaello Pantucci, a security expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London.

“When they used to hijack a plane, the idea was to swap passengers for some of their imprisoned comrades,” said Mr. Pantucci. “Now, you make a statement through the number of people you kill.”

Experts note that there is a difference between terrorism and mass killings carried out by unstable individuals but say images of one high-profile attack can foment others.

Pathological would-be killers absorb the violence and aggression of these events, potentially driving them to attempt larger acts of violence, says Brice De Ruyver, a professor of criminology at University of Ghent in Belgium. [Continue reading…]

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How did the media cover the Munich attack?

 

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Munich killer was troubled, but had no terrorist ties, Germany says

The New York Times reports: He had been bullied at more than one school. He played violent video games, and developed a fascination with mass shootings. He kept a copy of the German edition of “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters,” a study by an American academic psychologist, and he was treated for psychiatric problems.

Somewhere along the way, Ali Sonboly got his hands on a 9-millimeter Glock handgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition for it. And at 5:52 p.m. on Friday, at a McDonald’s in Munich a few miles from where he lived with his mother, father and brother, he started shooting.

Mr. Sonboly, 18, moved on to a shopping mall across the street, then to the top level of an adjacent parking garage. By the time his rampage was done, he had killed eight other young people and one middle-aged person. Then, in front of two police officers, he killed himself with his own gun, the police said. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: A copy of a German translation of the 2009 work, by the American academic Peter Langman, was found by police in the bedroom of the gunman, identified as Ali Sonbaly.

The book examines the factors that combine to turn young people into mass murderers. It classifies 10 school killers into three groups: psychopathic, psychotic, and traumatised.

The 10 include the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot dead 12 students and one teacher in Littleton, Colorado in April 1999; and the Virginia Tech gunman, Cho Seung-hui, who killed 32 people at the university in April 2007.

Katherine Newman, a professor of sociology at Princeton University and senior author of the book Rampage: the Social Roots of School Shootings, described Why Kids Kill as a dispassionate but clinically powerful analysis.

“It provides an interior view of the mind of rampage school-shooters that helps us understand the origins of the narcissism, paranoia, sadism, and thwarted rage that appears to motivate them … We come to understand the differences between shooters who are psychopaths and those who are schizophrenics, and why these distinctions matter,” she said. [Continue reading…]

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