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Assassin Dogs

On Tuesday Donald Trump made the following remarks about his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

Clinton supporters immediately denounced Trump, alleging that he was inciting violence.

An anti-Trump super PAC "Democratic Coalition Against Trump" said the FBI should investigate the Republican nominee. "There is no place in American politics for this kind of disgusting rhetoric," said the group's senior adviser, Scott Dworkin. "Donald Trump should immediately drop out of the race, and he should be arrested for committing a federal crime."

Trump spokesperson Jason Miller denied there was anything malicious in Trump's words.

It’s called the power of unification – 2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden disagreed.

If someone else had said that outside the hall, he'd be in the back of a police wagon now, with the Secret Service questioning him.

Hayden added that the speaker's intent is less important than the message the listeners receive.

I used to tell my seniors at the CIA, you get to a certain point in this business, you’re not just responsible for what you say, you are responsible for what people hear.

This level of rhetoric has incited violence elsewhere. In November of 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir after a lengthy campaign by Rabin's oppenents to derail the Oslo Accords by branding Rabin as a traitor.

His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a “traitor” and “a Nazi” for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel.…They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.

But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats.

In the United States, the most violent nation in the Western world—and in a year in which violent attacks are trending upward after decades of decline—Trump's remarks are far from benign. David Cohen, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, categorizes them as a form of terrorism.

In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism. This is an obscure and non-legal term that has been occasionally discussed in the academic world for the past decade and a half, and it applies with precision here. Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication "to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable."

Cohen summarizes this as, "Trump puts out the dog whistle knowing that some dog will hear it, even though he doesn't know which dog."

Maybe Trump didn't intend to incite violence, but it really doesn't matter. If certain people hear it that way, his intent is irrelevant.

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