In the hours following the massacre of Walmart shoppers, targeted for being Latinx, by a killer who authored a white male nationalist screed, the right-wing disinformation machine cranked into gear.
The attack was actually a deep-state “false flag” operation, tweeted conspiracy theorist Mark Taylor, the self-described “firefighter prophet.” Brendan Dilley, who hosts a MAGA-themed YouTube program, took to Twitter to ascribe the El Paso massacre to antifa, the often pugilistic anti-fascist movement. Two days later, the president of the United States, he of the alpha Twitter feed, blamed the media for both the attack in El Paso, Texas, and a subsequent massacre at a bar in Dayton, Ohio. For the small-time gaslighters like Dilley and Taylor, it was an epic assist from the Big Guy.
Taylor and Dilley are but two of the right-wing social media personalities who traffic in outlandish theories involving the so-called “deep state” or advancing the cryptic comments of an anonymous commenter who goes by the moniker “Q” in what has become known as the QAnon movement, which works on a premise that is an outgrowth of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. That phantasmagorical theory nearly got a family restaurant shot up in December 2016 when a man with a gun drove from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., with the aim of liberating children who were said to be held in the restaurant for the alleged pleasure of top figures in the Democratic Party. Thankfully, the round he shot lodged in the restaurant’s door, and the gunman was apprehended by police.
Last week, Yahoo News reported that an internal document from the Federal Bureau of Investigation designated the spread of such conspiracy theories as a violent threat to the population at large. From the leaked document: “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.”
As Juliette Kayyem, a former official in the Department of Homeland Security, notes in the Washington Post, acts of violence committed in the name of white nationalism or white supremacy are often cast as the work of a “lone wolf.” But in reality, she says, “there are no lone wolves.” While Kayyem primarily focuses her attention on message boards 4chan and 8chan (the latter has been disabled since it was used to disseminate the El Paso killer’s racist screed), there’s a whole cottage industry of right-wing talkers, preachers and pontificators whose utterances seem designed to prompt the unhinged to unleash mayhem upon unsuspecting people.
Wiktionary defines the term “stochastic terrorism” this way: “The use of mass public communication, usually against a particular individual or group, which incites or inspires acts of terrorism which are statistically probable but happen seemingly at random.”
Kayyem describes the 8chan and 4chan internet spaces, where anonymous commenters often post misogynistic, racist and other hateful messages, as places where stochastic terrorism is stoked. So, too, is virtually every social media space you ever entered—be it Twitter, YouTube or Facebook-—and many you haven’t even heard of.
I edit a website called Right Wing Watch, where my colleagues muck around in the fever swamps. Among the many thinly-veiled calls to violence issued through these accounts are frequent ominous warnings about a coming civil war, ostensibly fomented by progressives.
The voices articulating these predictions range from a former Republican nominee for the lieutenant governorship of the Commonwealth of Virginia to an outright white nationalist to religious-right figures and at least one well-known right-wing commentator.
You could argue that the civil war is already underway, and it’s looking pretty one-sided at the moment, thanks to the stochastic terrorists of the far-right, aided by the president of the United States.