If you look at the gamblers scattered across the floor of a casino, there is no clear method of telling which will go home winners and which will not. Despite that fact, we can predict with remarkable precision how well the casino will fare over the course of the evening. Further, we know that how much they win will be with considerable precision determined by how much money is gambled.
In some respects, this is analogous to the new and highly successful battle strategy of the Islamic State. Despite the fact that for more than a year, the once feared army of extremists has been faring badly on the battle field and has more recently seen a number of their prepositioned networks of trained attackers in Europe and elsewhere rooted out and broken up by law enforcement, their capacity for terror seems to have increased.
ISIS has a new army -- not one trained at ISIS camps in Syria, Iraq or Libya. The soldiers in this army don't wear ISIS uniforms or carry ISIS issued weapons. Further, ISIS commanders don't know the names of these soldiers, where they are located or whether any single individual in this so-called army will follow orders or launch an attack.
They do know, however, that around the world there are hundreds of millions of disaffected individuals of which some small percentage are susceptible to the ISIS world view. They know that as is true of any population, a significant percentage of these individuals will suffer from mental illness and, as is also true of any population, a small percentage of those with mental illness will be prone to violence -- some capable of extreme violence. Just like the profits of a casino owner, the success of this stealth army is not about the performance of any individual, it is a matter of probability. If ISIS can use its notoriety to reach enough sick and potentially violent people with the right message the probability becomes very high that horrific attacks of terror will be committed.
Enrico Fermi of the Manhattan Project along with other physicists spent a great deal of time in the 1930s examining what they called the Monte Carlo method of analyzing random probability statistics. Others have called such analysis "stochastics". More recently, some have begun to refer to the tactic that ISIS has successfully deployed (using mass media to stimulate violent acts by disturbed individuals) as "stochastic terrorism." A 2011 blog post described the term as:
The use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote control murder by lone wolf.
The 1998 book, Murder in the Name of God, makes a strong case that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a result of "stochastic terrorism." As Tom Friedman quite recently noted in The New York Times, Rabin's opponents, "kept delegitimizing him as a 'traitor' and 'a Nazi' for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel."
There are always people down the line who don't hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don't you? We kill them.
On November 4, 1995 someone finally acted on the rhetoric polluting Israeli public discourse. Yigal Amir, a right wing Israeli extremist opposed to Rabin's signing of the Oslo accords, fired three shots into Rabin's head with a semi-automatic pistol while Rabin walked to his waiting car.
Exploiting the weaknesses of the mentally and emotional disturbed as a method of murdering your political opponents is a particularly heinous means of carrying out the most heinous of crimes. It seems an oddly perfect modus operandi for a group as dedicated to evil as ISIS, but it also seems unthinkable as a tactic in the political process of the world's greatest democracy -- at least until this week.
At a rally in Wilmington, N.C. on August 9th, Donald Trump told a packed house, "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment... And if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."
I have tried to find a more benign interpretation to those words than what they appear to say on the surface. I have looked at the Trump campaign's explanations in the wake of the event claiming that he was simply calling for the unification of voters who oppose stricter gun rules and for a higher turnout at the polls for such voters. I don't want to think any politician in America would intend the meaning that seems to me to be the obvious interpretation of the Wilmington comments.
In the end, I can't ignore the fact that he appears to be calling on "Second Amendment people" to act in a way that other groups of people can't. That's not including voting but rather by using the weapons that they are advocating be protected from government regulation. As former Air Force General and CIA Director Michael Hayden told CNN's Jake Tapper, "If someone else had said that outside the hall, he'd be in the back of a police wagon now with the Secret Service questioning him."
Even if you disagree with my interpretation of the comment you have to agree with Hayden's observation that as a presidential candidate, "You're not just responsible for what you say. You are responsible for what people hear." With so many hearing the words as a call to violence, it is clear that Trump has a compelling responsibility to actively go about convincing those who not only heard the words of that message, but might be inclined to act on it; that he fervently and sincerely did not intend such a message and would find it catastrophic if anyone were to wrongly make that interpretation. To date, Trump has failed to make such an effort.
Whether the words were willful or merely reckless, they put at risk far more than an individual life. They endanger the orderly passage of power within society and as such they endanger society itself. Violence in our political system has enormous and long lasting consequences. In this country that has not historically inured to the benefit of the person or party associated with the violence. To the contrary, the individual or party targeted by that violence tends to benefit greatly. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 was in part responsible for the "Great Society" programs that Republicans still abhor. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan's resuscitated his administration at a point of serious weakness.
Trump's unwillingness to acknowledge the terrible risks these comments create, not only for his opponent but our political system in general, and the wellbeing of his political coalition in particular should be viewed with astonishment even by those who support his position on guns and believe his intent was nothing more than a plug for stronger voter turnout. Regardless of what anyone thinks of the other controversies concerning Trump's rhetoric, these comments should not stand. No decent human being should support his candidacy until he has fully, completely and energetically repudiated them.