Last month, Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked into public view. This month a man tried to assassinate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Police arrested the suspect outside Kavanaugh’s home (he was able to find Kavanaugh’s address online), and he was carrying a handgun, a knife, pepper spray, zip ties, and tools useful for breaking into the Kavanaugh home.
As the disturbing news reports filtered out, I had two immediate responses. First, because I’d just debated the topic on the New York Times “Argument” podcast, I thought: This is why you don’t dox public figures. By exposing a person’s home address to the public, you expose it not just to those who want to peacefully protest, but also to those who wish to do you harm.
But my second thought was more important, and it’s what I want to address today. I thought no one should be surprised at the attempt or the target. After all, in some quarters, Justice Kavanaugh has become the “right” person to hate, and if enough people hate a person, then threats and ultimately violence are the inevitable result.
I’d like to introduce you to a term you may not have heard before. It’s called “stochastic terrorism,” and it’s deeply challenging—both as a concept and as a reality—to both sides of our partisan divide. You can find a good short definition of the term in a recent piece by Todd Morley in the Small Wars Journal. He described it as “a quantifiable relationship between seemingly random acts of terrorism and the perpetuation of hateful rhetoric in public discourse, accompanied by catastrophising and fear generation in media sources.”