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Stochastic Terrorism: Links Between the GOP, Right-Wing Influencers & Neo-Nazi Violence

Stochastic Terrorism: Links Between the GOP, Right-Wing Influencers & Neo-Nazi Violence

Neo Nazis, Libs of Tiktok and MIchael Knowles

The right is weaponizing language to encourage acts of violence against marginalized communities.

Cwnewser

As part of its effort to demonize LGBTQ+ communities nationwide, the GOP has removed books from classrooms, banned the mention of gender identity and sexual orientation, and forbidden using pronouns. Drag queens are portrayed as deviants, while transgender people are portrayed as illegitimate and needing to be legislated out of existence.

In August, Laura Ann Carleton, who went by Lauri, was murdered outside of the Southern California boutique that she owned because she dared to show her support for the LGBTQ+ community. A man who held anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes shot and killed her when she wouldn’t remove a Pride Flag that flew at the store.

Throughout the current political climate, in which Republicans have chosen to make mainstream positions held by some of the most extreme far-right fringe elements that espouse neo-Nazi and white supremacist worldviews, coupled with right-wing media figures and grifters who amplify bigoted and dangerous narratives about marginalized groups like Black and LGBTQ+ people, one alarming tactic is gaining popularity – stochastic terrorism.

As a result of this tactic, armed white supremacists and other hate groups are screaming rabidly at children in public venues. In some places, schools are also being swept for bombs multiple times per week.

What is stochastic terrorism?

Stochastic terrorism refers to violent acts performed in response to messages intended to inspire such actions. As another way of putting it, this type of terrorism is statistically predictable but unpredictable for individuals.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Juliette Kayyem is an expert on security and terrorism, serving as the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs under President Obama. She also served as Massachusetts homeland security advisor. She tells The Advocate that the term has gained popularity among Republicans, who have used it to their advantage.

Kayyem says that over the last year, as the term stochastic terrorism has been defined and added to the American vocabulary, some on the right have attempted to take the word and use it to mock and dismiss those calling out the behavior.

She says it’s “typical” of how those on the right operate to weaponize language.

“The precious, easily insulted right would be starting to use it as a sword in terms of criticism,” she says. “I sort of view that as them playing on our terrain, which is good, but also typical of how the right works.”

She says to look no further than the word “woke,” which Republicans have coopted from African-American Vernacular English and made to connote a negative falsely negative concept when it denotes something entirely else.

Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, often celebrates how Florida is “where woke goes to die.” He uses the term as a pejorative because Democrats embrace the concept that one is “awakened” or “woke” to social injustices and acknowledge the origins and history of systems and social structures that remain in place today.

Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s currency includes attacks on “woke.” The Republican has been an outspoken transphobe and anti-LGBTQ+ champion who frequently spreads the false and dangerous claim that Democrats are pedophiles.

The same thing goes for the word “stochastic,” Kayyem says.

She explains that for whatever reason, the January 6 committee, to which she gave two briefings regarding the framework through which actions of those involved with the events leading up to and including the insurrection, didn’t use the term, but what they outlined could be described as stochastic terrorism tactics.

“Maybe it was the word terrorism, or maybe stochastic is not helpful or user friendly, but whatever you call it, it was very well memorialized in the January 6 committee report regarding that transition from stochasti terrorism to direct,” she says.

The ways former president Donald Trump deployed stochastic terrorism by amplifying a resonant message to the die-hard followers, he inspired them to commit acts of violence at the Capitol, Kayyem reasons.

After he was de-platformed by social media companies Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, prior to Elon Musk acquiring it and calling it X, Kayyem says his ability to affect his followers’ behavior had become very limited.

“As the politics of this have become more interesting, it’s clear to me, at least, that while there’s a sort of Fox prime time commitment to minimize January 6, the polling is clear for Republicans that this is a bad place for them to be,” she says.

“There’s not another national spokesperson who has replaced Trump in this regard, either because they won’t go there or they can’t, so in some ways, I view that as a success because the accomplishment of his use of stochastic terrorism was he could amplify it so that the more people saw it, the more likely it was that there was going to be violence,” she says.

Who engages in stochastic terrorism tactics?

Kayyem says that other far-right agitators who have taken over the mantle were born from that success. Chaya Raichik’s use of her Libs of TikTok Twitter (now X) account to target the LGBTQ+ community is one such example, Kayyem says.

Raichik regularly targets Drag Queen Story Hour events where kids listen to over-the-top characters read, claiming that people are “grooming” children for sexual exploitation. She also focuses a lot of her attention on school libraries that carry LGBTQ+ books like, This Books is Gay.

She has amassed over 2 million followers in more than a year using the schtick she’s carved out for herself, reposting videos of queer — particularly trans — creators often out of context with commentary meant to ridicule and inspire ill will, vilifying the LGBTQ+ community generally, with specific ire reserved for drag queens, things Raichik deems “woke,” and transgender-related issues.

On Saturday, a Drag Queen Story Hour event in New Jersey had to be evacuated because of an anonymous bomb threat that contained anti-LGBTQ+ language. It doesn’t appear that Libs of TikTok targeted that specific event.

However, Raichik often complains that when acts of violence occur at events she has highlighted, she is unfairly blamed for the actions of those who engage in violent acts. However, she always takes credit for getting LGBTQ-related content removed from school districts that she targets with her platform.

What are examples of stochastic terrorism?

In March, Raichik successfully got an Iowa school system to remove a book from its high school library after she targeted it. In upstate New York, the Hilton Central School District had to evacuate schools twice in one week over threats from an anonymous person on the Internet who took issue with the availability of This Book is Gay in the district’s school libraries.

Far-right extremist groups have shown up armed at events Libs of TikTok has highlighted. Some have called bomb threats into children’s hospitals the right-wing hatemonger has targeted. Former Fox News entertainer Tucker Carlson has eagerly spread Raichik’s messages on television.

In early March, in Ohio, hundreds of armed neo-Nazis chanting “Sieg heil” and doing a one-armed Hitler salute joined with members of Patriot Front, the Proud Boys, III Percenters, White Lives Matter Ohio, and others to harass families who had gathered at a public park to hear a drag queen read a story to kids.

Several weeks later, in early May, also in Ohio, neo-Nazis displaying swastikas and chanting neo-Nazi slogans threatened people attending a drag brunch.

In July, armed neo-Nazis menaced an LGBTQ+ Pride in the Park event in Wisconsin.

Additionally, in early August, an Oregon clinic that provides gender-affirming care, among other services, received a bomb threat after Libs of TikTok featured it on its page.

Kayyem cites the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland in March as an example of stochastic terrorism tactics employed as well.

Right-wing commentator, Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire, argued to an assembled crowd that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” adding that it would be “for the good of society.”

“This was a perfect example,” Kayyem says. “He says eradication, and then he says transgenderism. So he knows he’s going to try to get an out, out of that.”

Using the term transgenderism (which is outdated and not used) conveys everything he intended to convey to his followers while affording him some plausible deniability, she explains.

“Of course, with Libs of TikTok, it’s the use of incredible claims — children are being mutilated, forced to become girls against their will — that’ll be heard by some percentage of those people as a justification for violence,” Kayyem notes.

This is dehumanizing, and that’s the point, she says.

Raichik and Jaimee Michell, whose group runs Gays Against Groomers, become very good at denying that their attention results in any harm, she adds.

“They don’t have to say, and they never do say attack this hospital or that hospital,” Kayyem says. “It’s an incitement about a process or a procedure that’s going on that would justify anyone who cares about children, of course, to go try to bomb a facility.”

Fox News has also engaged in behavior that can be categorized as stochastic terrorism, says research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University Jon Lewis.

In June, when Fox News ran an outrageously inflammatory and false story with the headline, “White House flew controversial new transgender flag that promotes grooming and pedophilia, say critics,” the network published the claim that the use of the Progress Pride flag at the largest Pride celebration at the White House on the South Lawn indicated that the administration was celebrating pedophiles.

The “critics” that the headline cited was Michell, the lesbian founder of Gays Against Groomers.

The White House continues to insist on a retraction of the Fox News story.

The Pride flag, whether Progress or otherwise, has become a symbol that evokes hatred on the right because of messages spread by right-wing media outlets like Fox News.

Lewis notes that a direct line can be drawn between messaging about Pride flags by right-wing actors and an act of violence, the Carelton murder, as just one example of stochastic terrorism.

“You have to look at the root cause of those incidents,” Lewis says. “When you do pull back that curtain, I think it is hard to look at any singular reason besides stochastic terrorism.”

In the aftermath of a May mass shooting in Allen, Texas, where a gunman killed eight people, including children, and injured many more, police found it to be potentially bias-motivated.

The alleged gunman, Mauricio Martinez Garcia, had an online presence that indicated extremist views.

Photos attributed to Garcia showed his body with a swastika and “SS” tattoos.

Open-source intelligence researchers discovered at least one post on a Russian social media site that Garcia wrote, “This post was inspired by Libs of TikTok,” before going on an anti-Semitic rant.

Kayyem says that while Libs of TikTok inspires incitement and violence, this shooter’s exact targets remain unclear because of a general “hate stew” that he espoused.

“I do think that when leaders nurture or support or fail to condemn this activity, it could lead to violence like this,” Kayyem says. “They know it and that is the point. It isn’t like it is a surprise anymore.”

No single figure since the former president has been able to grab the attention of those who would be susceptible to suggestions and galvanize them behind a cause, Kayyem says.

“We have not seen a national figure be able to replicate what Trump was able to do, and I think we have to view that as a bit of a success, she says. “But what that does is that others maybe not as successfully or loudly have taken up the mantle, including groups like Libs of TikTok.”

Lewis notes that politicians like DeSantis are flirting with stochastic terrorism tactics that could inspire acts of violence toward Black people.

The “anti-woke“ agenda in Florida, which seeks to rewrite the history of slavery and eliminate discussions about racism in classrooms, is another example of dehumanizing and othering behavior, he says.

Lewis says that although he’s hesitant to ascribe a single motivation to the shooting last weekend in Jacksonville that targeted Black people because the investigation is not yet complete, it’s clear that the swastikas and the writings were those of a racist.

“What I would say broadly is that in both the white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ spaces, you have seen these very similar patterns where the fringe has become embraced by an increasingly large subset of Americans. Concepts like the great replacement theory that 10 years ago was kind of the fodder for these closed white supremacist chat rooms and kind of niche online spaces are now in the past couple of years are all over Tucker Carlson’s show.”

He explains, “It’s common sense that whenever you have this kind of mainstreaming, this kind of seeding of these ideas out to this number of people, it’s always going to increase the likelihood — not that hundreds of thousands of people are all of a sudden going to have that cognitive shift, but 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 of them are going to be radicalized, are going to think, ‘Hey, this makes a lot of sense. I should go down this rabbit hole.’ And then at the end of that is where you then see individuals who, for any combination of ideological reasons, personal grievances, whatever, are willing to then commit acts of mass violence.”

As far as the future is concerned, Kayyem advises to remain vigilant.

“I think the GOP will always be pretty successful in creating their plausible deniability,” she says. “I think the divisions within the GOP that got played out at CPAC, who was going, who wasn’t, and how fringy CPAC has gotten, suggest that there will be elements of the GOP that always will align with that violent, racist, homophobic element.”

For her part, Raichik has reveled in her role as someone whose words inspire acts of violence by mocking the terminology that experts use to describe her tactics.

“They made up the term stochastic terrorist for us. So honestly, like, that makes me feel really important,” she said on a podcast recently.

Ari Drennen, LGBTQ+ program director at Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group, noted that Raichik removed the label “stochastic terrorist” from her Twitter account’s biography since the Allen shooting.

“The grifters want the attention,” says Lewis. “They want the think pieces. They want the articles written about them saying, ‘Oh, this Twitter account or this TikTok account is doing this, this, and this bad thing,’ so that they can fundraise off of it. They’re going to say, ‘I’m under attack from these people. They’re spreading falsehoods. I’m just expressing my opinion!’”

He says that the faces of those who make money off the rage, like Raichik, Michell, and others like far-right influencer Tim Pool who engages in transphobic and homophobic screeds regularly, are unlikely to find themselves engaging in violence themselves.

What are the statistics for hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people?

The FBI's annual crime report for 2022 has revealed a troubling increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. According to the FBI data, hate crimes based on sexual orientation saw a significant 13.8 percent rise, while those targeting gender identity surged by a striking 32.9 percent compared to the previous year. Specifically, the report documented 1,947 incidents related to sexual orientation in 2022, up from 1,711 in 2021, with 469 incidents concerning gender identity, including 338 anti-transgender cases and 131 targeting gender nonconforming individuals.

Who commits acts of violence?

“Your Tim Pools aren’t going to be the ones who are taking the beanie off, getting off the couch, or getting up from behind the laptop and going to shoot up a grocery store or go shoot someone that’s flying a Pride Flag on their house,” Lewis explains. “It’s going to be one of the hundreds of thousands of followers who is a ‘reply guy.’ That was the case with the individual who, after the Mar-a-Lago search warrant was executed, drove to the Cincinnati FBI field office with a nail gun and a rifle and was shot and killed trying to break into it. If he had two followers on Truth Social, that was a lot of followers.”

He continues, “He was just a reply guy. He was looking at these grifters and the right-wing Congress people like [Arizona Rep.] Paul Gosar or [Georgia Rep.] Marjorie Taylor Greene, who are just continually perpetuating these narratives. When someone is already looking for an excuse to commit violence, and they see an elected official that they agree with posting messages saying, ‘The FBI is coming after us, they’re corrupt. Someone’s got to do something about it.’ That person isn’t going to think, ‘Oh, I better go make sure I vote in the next election so that we can ensure effective oversight of the executive branch by the legislative branch.’ He’s thinking, ‘I better go pick up my gun and commit this attack.’ And that speaks to the insidious nature of stochastic terrorism.”

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).