By Reed Galen
In October 2020, then-President Donald Trump advised the Proud Boys, his version of the Brown Shirts, to “stand back and stand by.” Trump knew what he was doing by drawing together the Republican Party and the next generation of violent nationalists. Fear has always been Trump’s superpower.
He scares his voters into believing ‘those people’ are out to get them. He keeps his fellow Republicans in line by ensuring the MAGA hordes will descend upon anyone who gets out of line. He attempts to scare otherwise normal Americans by explicitly calling for violence in the streets aimed at those who would oppose him.
In a too-rare win for justice, many of Trump’s goons, including Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers chief Stewart Rhodes have been convicted (by a jury of their peers) of seditious conspiracy in connection with their attempts on January 6, 2021, to subvert a free and fair election. Rhodes, who is facing 25 years in federal prison, has asked for ‘leniency’ in his sentencing.
It is heartening to see those who would destroy our Republic face justice, but they are just the tip of this ugly iceberg. Below the surface, there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of like-minded radicals who are already doing unspeakable damage.
Almost every day now, we’re confronted with scenes of battlefield carnage in our schools, churches, and public spaces. El Paso, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and now Allen, Texas, are examples of young, lonely, heavily-armed men destroying families and communities in the name of hate. These massacres are the result of stochastic terrorism, defined as “the incitement of a violent act through public demonization of a group.”
Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, the list of Republican and right-wing pundits and politicians who encourage violence, as a matter of course, are stochastic terrorists and know exactly what they’re doing. A key marker of stochastic terrorism is that the resulting terrorism appears at random intervals, but the acts themselves are not random occurrences. More simply: This terrorism will occur. When and where? Often impossible to say.
The goal of all terrorism, from Al Qaeda to Timothy McVeigh, is to instill fear. The death and destruction wrought are ingredients in the recipe that terrorists use. We see the carnage – the World Trade Center a flaming ruin, the face of the Murrah Federal Building sheared off, dead children in the wreckage, or the pictures of the happy families that went out for a day at the mall and will never return home, leaving a little boy to fend for himself.
Republican and MAGA leaders use this fear to their advantage in elections. They claim that ‘the beasts are coming’ and that ‘security’ at any cost must be achieved. Their thoughts and prayers in the wake of these events are no comfort to those affected, nor are they meant to be. They’re a sop to the media and the public. Their excuses are mental health (for which they routinely cut funding) or that it’s all part of God’s plan. Either way, the poisonous rhetoric and revanchism that Carlson and his ilk shoot into America’s bloodstream is called ‘truth’ in an Orwellian way.
Our national mood is unhappy. Given the black swans occupying this big lake we call America, it is understandable, the low unemployment rate and positive economic data notwithstanding. This is exactly where the Donald Trumps of the world want and need us. Authoritarians survive, thrive, and succeed when we are at our lowest points. They need us scared and hopeless.
It is our job to stand up and say “No” to their efforts. When they want us huddled inside, we go outside in our communities and show that together we are stronger than they are. Registering to vote, or helping someone else register to vote, are small but crucial acts of resistance to these dark forces.
Sign up to be an elections observer. Volunteer at a library or a school. When, and only when, we begin to see ourselves not as atomized individuals but as Americans, will this threat retreat into the black forest from which it came. We have always valued our individualism; in fact, it is core to our idea of ‘the American dream.’ But we will only turn the corner when individualism is paired with the belief that with freedom comes responsibility, not just for us, but for our neighbors, our town, state, and, yes, country.
We have a lot of work to do in the next 18 months, but it is work that is both crucial and imminently doable. The work of coming together – in person – creates the bonds that will tie us together as we face down our greatest threat since 1860. We have seen and survived worse than MAGA has to offer. Now is the time not to worry but to work.