There’s a long-standing slam in the online world, starting all the way back with bulletin-board systems and 2400 baud modems: “Keyboard [something].”
There were Keyboard Coaches, of course, who knew exactly what Coach X should have called on Saturday. And Keyboard Activists, who burned up their computer writing letters to the editor from the comfort of their den.
Today, then, I want to talk about another group that has been around for a while: Keyboard Warriors. These are people who hide behind the anonymity of a screen name to throw out tough talk and dire threats, but when it is time to carry out those threats they find something else to do.
As the reality of Trump’s indictment settles in on his followers/cult, we’re seeing more and more threats of violence. The rhetoric is alarming in its directness and intensity. Some example:
You get the idea.
So here’s the question: Are these people actually dangerous? Are they actually going to get out some of their hundreds of guns and start shooting people they think are Democrats? Or, are they just Keyboard Warriors, venting in a friendly space like the Trump thread on Reddit?
January 6th, of course, is one example of where some of them did more than talk. But that event was planned for months, it was in a single defined location, and Trump was there to light the fuse. It took all of those factors to move a mob to violence.
In my opinion, almost all of this online rhetoric is just that: online rhetoric. As angry as some of these people appear to be, actually going out and murdering their neighbor because he or she voted for Biden is just not in the realm of possibility for even the far-right edge of the far right.
HOWEVER – there is a term that we need to bring up. We need to bring it up so often that it becomes part of the everyday conversation of citizens both left and right. And that term is “stochastic terrorism.”
Stochastic terrorism – 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.
An example of stochastic terrorism is the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas. He was continually attacked by name on various right-wing shows, including “The O’Reilly Factor.” Bill O’Reilly would regularly refer to him as “Tiller the Baby Killer.” Tiller was murdered in his church as he was serving as an usher.
Kari Lake, who lost her bid to become Arizona’s governor, said this after Trump was indicted:
When leaders like Lake make statements like this, it can trigger someone already on the edge into taking action. Never mind that it is an irresponsible, dangerous statement in its own right; it is also saying that violence with guns is justified in this case. And someone may decide to act on that opinion by Lake.
I don’t think we are in danger at the moment of descending into some sort of civil war, or of experiencing an incident of mass violence like January 6th. Most of the rhetoric on the right is Keyboard Warriors talking tough online.
But I do worry about statements like Lake’s made by political leaders and pundits, and the effect those statements could have on some people. I worry about so-called “lone wolf” violence, where the “lone wolf” has been triggered into violence by someone continually rattling their cage.
It’s time to call out any person with a following who makes statements like these. Name the stochastic terrorism rhetoric, and condemn it. Educate others about it.
And above all, don’t react in kind. Don’t be a Keyboard Warrior from the left. We’ve got more than enough Keyboard Warriors out there already.