National Security Experts Warn Trump “Is Promoting Terrorism”
The president’s post-election incitement expands on a tactic he has long used: stochastic terrorism.
photo above: Paul Sancya/AP
December 17, 2020
WN: Indeed: “At what point does this become sedition?” (See below.)
In the waning days of his presidency, Donald Trump is engaged in a deliberate campaign of terrorism aimed at Americans who oppose him politically. That description of his actions is neither a metaphor nor hyperbole—it is the assessment of veteran national security experts, whose view of the political violence being stoked by the outgoing president is echoed by law enforcement and political leaders. As Trump has pushed a litany of lies and conspiracy theories claiming that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him through “massive fraud,” he has stirred his most extreme supporters into menacing public officials, election workers, and his Democratic and Republican critics alike. Over the past four years, numerous perpetrators of threats and violence have directly invoked the president and his rhetoric, and recent gatherings by far-right groups in support of Trump’s efforts to reverse his election defeat have led to beatings, stabbings and a shooting.
Trump is using a tactic known as “stochastic terrorism,” says Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert and former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. It’s a method of political incitement that provokes random acts of extremist violence, in which the instigator uses rhetoric ambiguous enough to give himself and his allies plausible deniability for any resulting bloodshed. Violent threats or attacks linked to the rhetoric usually generate muted denials and equivocal denunciations, or claims to have been “joking,” as Trump and those speaking on his behalf have routinely hidden behind.
…Among national security experts, Kayyem is not alone in this view. “It really matters that the president of the United States is an arsonist of radicalization,” said Kori Schake, who served in leadership posts at the National Security Council and State Department under President George W. Bush. “It will really help when that’s no longer the case,” she added, speaking in a recent online panel discussion about the danger fueled by Trump and his enablers.
Trump’s post-election incitement has manifested in new and alarming ways. By early December, after the president unleashed a wave of false claims attacking the election results in battleground states including Michigan, a group of armed Trump supporters gathered outside the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as she and her young son were putting up Christmas decorations. They chanted “Stop the steal” and shouted “You’re a felon and must turn yourself in immediately.” Less prominent officials and election workers around the country have been harassed for doing their jobs processing votes, menaced with nooses and death threats, and stalked online or at their homes. On December 14, state electors faced with “credible threats” in Michigan and Arizona were compelled to take extraordinary security measures—including locking down buildings and meeting at an undisclosed location—as they convened to certify Biden’s presidential victory.
The president’s tactics have been imitated by his operatives and political allies. Recent comments from Trump campaign lawyer Joseph DiGenova were a textbook example: After the president fired DHS cybersecurity director Chris Krebs, who had described the 2020 elections as the most secure in history, DiGenova said in an interview that Krebs should be “taken out at dawn and shot.” DiGenova later claimed his comments “were sarcastic and made in jest.” As electors in Arizona prepared to certify Biden’s win, state Sen.-elect Wendy Rogers, a backer of Trump’s false claims about the election, tweeted: “Buy more ammo.” When Arizona Democrats criticized Rogers for using incendiary language on such a consequential day, she tweeted repeatedly that she was simply cheerleading for Second Amendment rights. “She knows exactly what she’s doing & wants plausible deniability,” responded Rep. Jennifer Longdon, an assistant Democratic leader in the Arizona House. Longdon’s tweet described Rogers’ own as a “clarion call to lone wolf extremists.”
Longdon, a gun violence survivor, knows well the danger of fringe actors who go on the attack over a political cause, including those who threatened, stalked, and assaulted her over her work on gun safety. Trump’s allies, she says, “have ramped this up to a level that’s beyond irresponsible.” If violence follows, Rogers and others “will just shrug their shoulders and walk away from it. But someone is hearing that call, and that call is coming from someone they consider to be a responsible voice of leadership.” Longdon added that the targeting of conservative Republican state officeholders who deemed Arizona’s election results fair and credible was telling. “This is a really dangerous and cynical attempt to whip up a base for what comes next,” she says. “At what point does this become sedition?”
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