The U.S. has seen increased violence in recent years, and a specific path has emerged. It begins with poisonous rhetoric that inspires individuals and groups to engage in violent behavior. It's called stochastic terrorism, and it's a big problem online.
The danger with this violence is extreme because it is inspired by politicians and media personalities who aren't held accountable.
Stochastic terrorism is based on a psychological phenomenon in which someone is inspired to act violently in the name of something they perceive as wrong from messages they receive that are designed to inspire such action.
Put another way, it refers to terrorism that is statistically predictable but unpredictable on an individual basis.
One can find an example of stochastic terrorism in the attack on a Cincinnati Federal Bureau of Investigation field office days ago inspired by anti-FBI rhetoric.
Immediately after the news broke last week that the FBI had searched former President Donald Trump's Palm Beach, Fla., home, Mar-a-Lago, right-wingers — including politicians — began attacking the federal law enforcement agency.
Media figures on the right instigated outrage over the lawful search, and sitting congressman urged that the FBI be destroyed.
"The FBI raid on Trump's home tells us one thing," tweeted Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. "Failure is not an option. We must destroy the FBI. We must save America. I stand with Donald J. Trump."
In Cincinnati, a man who attended the January 6, 2021, insurrection found inspiration in all the rhetoric he had consumed, so he targeted the FBI field office with a nail gun and an AR-15 on Thursday. As a result of the incident, an hour-long standoff ended with the man being killed.
In a post no longer available online, The Daily Beast reports, Ricky Shiffer, the man who attacked the field office in seeking revenge for the search of Trump's home, wrote at some point that he'd prepared for "war against the communists who chemically nueter prebuscent [sic] children and call it gender transitioning. Save ammunition."
Throughout the summer, far-right groups of racists and misogynists, such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Front, intimidated LGBTQ+-related events across the country.
This summer's events followed a pattern that would not be precisely predicted but can be analyzed through statistical analysis, Juliette Kayyem tells The Advocate. "That's stochastic terrorism," she says.
As a Harvard Kennedy School professor, Kayyem is a global leader in crisis management and homeland security. She served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama and as homeland security adviser to Deval Patrick when he was governor of Massachusetts. She is one of the most renowned experts on stochastic terrorism.
Juliette Kayyem is a Harvard professor, CNN national security analyst, former assistant secretary at DHS, author, and consultant.
"It's akin to ISIS not planning a specific attack but creating an environment in which violence becomes an arm of the political party," Kayyem says.
"I saw in Trump the mastery of something I knew in my field, which is stochastic terrorism," she adds.
Listeners interpret the demonization of groups promoted through social media and right-wing propaganda as promoting targeted violence — terrorism — which can lead to overt actions. But, as Kayyem says, these acts are often motivated by vague language that allows the agitator to deny responsibility.
There is a direct link between accounts like Chaya Raichik's LibsofTikTok and angry and potentially violent men showing up at drag queen story hours and Pride events, Kayyem says.
In June, a group of men interrupted a drag queen story hour at a library in the San Francisco Bay Area after Libs of TikTok highlighted the event to its more than 1 million followers. The men, who police believe to be part of the far-right Proud Boys, yelled homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ slurs.
Earlier that month, a North Carolina drag queen story hour had to be canceled after organizers received threats of violence and deemed it unsafe to continue with the event.
In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a potentially violent incident was thwarted when an eagle-eyed citizen spotted a large group of men wearing khakis and blue shirts, with baseball caps and face coverings with riot shields and other gear, loading a U-Haul truck headed toward an LGBTQ+ Pride celebration, and called authorities.
During the stop, police arrested 31 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front on charges related to rioting.
In that day's incident, authorities credited the citizen's quick reaction for preventing significant violence.
Identifying stochastic terrorism as the result of certain forms of rhetoric is crucial for accountability, Kayyem argues.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors and tracks extremist groups like Patriot Front, Libs of TikTok hyped the Pride in the Park event in the small Idaho town in advance, which led to several groups of right-wing radicals targeting it, including Patriot Front.
In June, SPLC's Michael Hayden told The Advocate that he had "seen more footage of very talented drag queens dancing [this summer] coming from the right-wing swamp" than at any other time in his life.
He specializes in investigating hate groups and extremist groups for SPLC.
He warned that ill-willed politicians could find themselves inspiring acts of terrorism.
"Marjorie Taylor Greene should know the risk of [her online rhetoric], Hayden said. "The question is, does she want to push an act of terror? I can't say that."
He continued, "But what I can say is the far-right actors are agitating in such a way that they should know that danger is [present]."
Given the developments in the United States over the last week, Hayden's warning was prescient.
Conservatives who use a specific tone and type of rhetoric online and in media are aware of the consequences, according to Kayyem.
"I think they know the damage they're doing," she says. "It's a political calculation that the damage is worth the win, and I think that's horrifying."
She says that to fight back against the conservatives' conscious decision to radicalize their followers for political gain is to shine a light on it.
"It's identifying it, acknowledging it, and pushing back," she says. "The data shows me, as it consistently has, that they're on the losing side."