This week Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY) got a nasty voicemail that insulted him. He felt threatened by it. Wow! If you think that reaction is callous, you should walk a mile in my shoes and see what it’s like to live with right-wing terror every day. What happened to Rep. Zeldin while terrible to the uninitiated is a minuscule fraction of what the right-wing inflicts upon its opponents everyday in America.
I’m the founder and host of The Young Turks, the largest online progressive news show. We put out dozens of videos every day within our network and get back thousands of comments filled with rage, hatred, vitriol and physical threats. The right-wing has professionalized that type of terror, so when they turn around and declare a national emergency when they get one nasty message back, you’ll excuse me if I’m not overly moved by their plight.
If you think, I am over-dramatizing the situation by using the word terror, you haven’t experienced what we go through every day. Just this past week I got threatening calls on my phone, on top of the literally thousands of hate comments online, and my wife started getting calls on her phone. This is life in the right-wing terror dome. You also might not know how often those hate filled verbal comments turn into physical violence against perceived enemies of the right-wing.
It’s called stochastic terrorism. That’s a new word I learned. Had to learn. It means terrorism that is generalized, not directed at any one target. So, you encourage general violence for people on your side to partake in - and then random acts of terror start popping up that can’t necessarily be connected back to you but that you incited on purpose. Sound familiar?
If a host on Fox News or an alt-right pundit online or a President says go do harm to a specific person, that is horrible and actionable. It is illegal and can have consequences for the speaker. If that same host tells you how problematic one group of people are, then repeats it endlessly on a loop and then shows you those people climbing fences to get into your backyard – and then asks you how mad you are about it and whether you’re going to do something about it, he has not violated any laws. But he has released stochastic terror into the world. If someone happens to act on it, well, I guess he caught a break.
For visible progressive leaders, there are multiple threats of violence upon us on a daily basis. This has come to be accepted as the new norm. They say we let in the enemy, we encourage the people who would do us harm. Isn’t anyone going to do anything about it?
Think about what percentage of any group is mentally unstable. Now think about a group that are engulfed in conspiracy theories, heavily armed and paranoid by nature. You know they are out there. Weaponized lunatics armed with hate and fear and actual heavy weaponry.
This is not theoretical. The ADL just put out a report that showed that literally every terror attack where someone got killed in 2018 was done by a right-wing terrorist. The massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – a right-wing terrorist who hated Jews and said they were “bring[ing] invaders in that kill our people.” The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL – a white-supremacist terrorist who hated blacks and Muslims. The massacre at the Yoga Studio in Tallahassee – a right-wing terrorist who hated women and minorities.
If targeting these specific groups with hate-filled propaganda wasn’t enough, then they stoke their rabid followers to target anyone bringing you reporting or facts. Does it get any clearer then calling someone an “enemy of the people”? What do you do someone who is an enemy of the people? You take action against them. Into that toxic stew steps in Cesar Sayoc to send pipe bombs to the media who dare to do their job and to progressives who dare stick their neck out to fight back against right-wing ideology.
Now, think about how much you would want to speak out against the right-wing in a situation like that. Are you willing to have people on the internet tell everyone where you live? Willing to let them paint you as the face of the enemy? No? Well, this is how they win. Then the good are silenced into inaction.
Last we heard, Christina Blasey Ford was moving from one location to another daily to avoid the people threatening her life non-stop. Some of the Sandy Hook parents have had to move several times to try to evade conspiracy theorists egged on by right-wing pundits. Their kids were murdered and now they are stalked themselves. This is what terrorism looks like.
And fascism slowly sets in. It creeps into the assumptions of our lives. It starts to control not only our actions but our inactions. With the ever looming threat of violence lurking over your head, you begin to wonder if you should “invite” trouble by speaking out. It might not be their leaders who take action themselves, it might not be someone who is fair representative of a majority of the group, but they know there is a guy - a guy who is out there. He exists. Waiting. Waiting for us.
That’s terror. Stochastic terror. And in this country, right-wing terror.