The US edition of The Guardian continues to embarrass its UK sibling with its coverage of anti-trans violence; most recently, its coverage of a stochastic terrorism event in the US.
If you’re not familiar with the term, stochastic terrorism is when you incite violence indirectly: you’re not saying that someone should go out and attack the Jews/Roma/Blacks/Queers/Trans; you’re just saying that these sick fucks are coming for your kids and family and country and maybe they need to be taught a lesson. When blood is inevitably spilled, your hands remain snowy white.
One of the best known examples of stochastic terrorism is the witch trials in Europe and America, where women were accused of witchcraft â€“ often by other women. More recently we have “white women’s tears”, a term used to describe when a white woman weaponises their whiteness and womanhood against somebody who is Black.
Here’s Julia Carrie Wong on the “Central Park Karen” story in The Guardian (inevitably the US Guardian, not the UK one):
Amy Cooperâ€™s Karen status was cemented when she called the police on Christian Cooper, a 57-year-old Black birdwatcher, after he had asked her to leash her dog in New York Cityâ€™s Central Park. Not content with falsely alleging, twice, that â€œan African American manâ€ was â€œthreatening me and my dogâ€, Cooper put on a play for the 911 operator, changing the register of her voice to one of distress and panic as she cried: â€œI am being threatenedby a man in the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately.â€
It was through that performance that Amy Cooper took on the mantle of an American archetype: the white woman who weaponizes her vulnerability to exact violence upon a Black man. In history, she is Carolyn Bryant, the adult white woman whose complaint about a 14-year-old Emmett Till led to his torture and murder at the hands of racist white adults. In literature, she is Scarlett Oâ€™Hara sending her husband out to join a KKK lynching party or Mayella Ewell testifying under oath that a Black man who had helped her had raped her. In 2020, she is simply Karen.
That’s stochastic terrorism: unleashing forces that you know may or will harm somebody on your behalf. And often, those forces are the far right.
Which brings us to LA this summer. Here’s Sam Levin and Lois Beckett for The Guardian US.
On 24 June, a woman claimed on Instagram that a Korean spa in Los Angeles had allowed a â€œmanâ€ to expose himself to women and girls in the womenâ€™s section.
There is no evidence that the alleged event ever happened, and lots of evidence to suggest that the woman is an anti-LGBT+ evangelical Christian with an agenda to push.
The unsubstantiated allegations about Wi Spa in LAâ€™s Koreatown neighborhood quickly spread from social media to rightwing forums to far-right news sites to Fox News, and were distorted by anti-transgender groups across multiple countries.
The massive media attention resulted in two weekends of chaotic rallies in LA this month, in which anti-trans and trans-rights protesters fought in the streets, and women carrying â€œprotect female spacesâ€ signs paraded alongside members of the far-right Proud Boys. Trans counter-protesters and their supporters described being Maced, stabbed and chased by rightwing demonstrators, as well as injured by police.
The episode, experts said, offered a case study in how viral misinformation can result in violence, and provided clear evidence of the links between anti-trans and far-right movements, including QAnon conspiracy theorists, who believe that a cabal of elite pedophiles is manipulating the American government.
This is not a purely American conspiracy.
The video was also shared by feminists who advocate against trans-inclusive policies â€“ sometimes referred to as gender critical feminists, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists (Terfs). Moro documented a flurry of posts on Ovarit (a site for users banned from Reddit due to transphobia) and Mumsnet (a platform for UK mothers, which has attracted anti-trans feminists).
Some of the people sharing the video were British journalists, including Guardian contributors.
Wi Spa represented a nightmare scenario of what can happen when far-right groups, rightwing conspiracy theorists and gender-critical feminists are all aligned against trans rights, Serano said: â€œThe idea that anytime people can point out a trans woman was in a womenâ€™s space, and suddenly the Proud Boys and QAnon people all come out against it, is very scary.â€
It’s also deliberate. Anti-trans groups in the UK have toured rough housing estates to tell men about the supposed trans threat to their daughters; their supporters write books saying the same with bigger words. Allegations of grooming and child abuse are commonplace online, not just against trans women but against the parents of trans and non-binary people. Supposedly serious journalists write of children being “sacrificed”; on social media and in forums, people talk openly about how trans people and allies should be assaulted or even executed. And some anti-trans activists have deliberately courted the far right: chances are if they’ve been banned from Twitter, they’ve appeared on a white supremacist podcast or YouTube channel.
The problem with that is that they are supping with The Devil without having brought a long spoon. Or to mix my metaphors, they have let the fascist genie out of the bottle and he doesn’t want to go back in again.
An anti-trans protest planned for speaker’s corner this weekend in London â€“ a protest partly organised by a prominent anti-trans activist who has openly embraced the far right and urged armed men to threaten trans women â€“ has been cancelled because Tommy Robinson and his racist pals were planning to join them. It seems highly likely that the cancellation wasn’t because the activists didn’t want neo-Nazi support; it’s that they didn’t want to be seen getting neo-Nazi support.
Whether you’re palling around with Nazis or just demonising minorities online or in newspaper columns, you are taking part in stochastic terrorism. Neo-nazis stabbing people are just one example of where that leads.Â When a young mother is beaten with an iron bar by 13 youths shouting anti-trans slurs; when a teen gets their nose broken for refusing to answer whether they’re a boy or a girl; when a man sets a trans woman’s house on fire after sharing transphobes’ talking points online; that’s stochastic terrorism: violent events deliberately incited by people who know exactly what they’re doing.
They may not get blood on their hands, but they have a stain on their souls.