Hateful words can lead to violence. Utah isn’t immune, George Pyle writes

This phenomenon is called ‘stochastic terrorism’ and it needs to be called out.

(Matt Rourke | AP Photo) A person pays his respects outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.

It was, in retrospect, a pretty minor political scandal. Especially by New York standards.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, was accused of having the state police spy on the movements of a political rival, one Joseph Bruno, Republican leader of the state Senate, and leak moderately damaging information about Bruno to reporters, supposedly in reply to freedom of information filings that nobody had made.

It all took on the not-so-original label of Troopergate. Spitzer blamed it all on overzealous subordinates.

In probably the only question I was able to ask Spitzer during my sojourn as an Upstate pundit - before he resigned in the wake of an altogether different scandal, and I returned to Utah - I wanted to know if he might have given his aides a reason to think that smearing Bruno would make their boss happy, even if he never explicitly told them to do any such thing.

I asked, “Are you sure you didn’t say something like, ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’”

“I’m not really up on my Shakespeare,” Spitzer replied, going on to insist he had uttered no such plaintive cry.

It wasn’t Shakespeare, of course, though it does sound like something that might have been in one of his royal tragedies. It is one version of a line attributed to Henry II, who was royally vexed by the rebellions actions of the archbishop of Canterbury, one Thomas Becket.

The story, as told in many books, a play and a 1964 movie, is that four of Henry’s knights took the complaint as a royal command, rode to Canterbury, and killed Becket.

Though the king had what today would be called plausible deniability, he accepted responsibility, did public penance and stood by as the pope had the murderous knights chased away to the Holy Land. Becket was widely venerated as a martyr and named a saint.

These days, America is up to its tear ducts in martyrs and saints, and it is high time that some modern kings of social media and cable TV started doing some public penance.

The mass shooting in a gay bar in Colorado Springs last week is only the latest manifestation of something that, I have just learned, is called “stochastic terrorism.”

“Stochastic,” apparently, is a $5 word that sort of means “random.” Stochastic terrorism, then, is an act of violence committed by someone who was inspired, but not explicitly ordered, to take action against some demonized segment of society - Jews, Blacks, women, LGBT, Mormons.

The encouragement comes from someone who does not know the ultimate perpetrators of the violence, or their victims, but who has built up a following by loudly claiming that society - that is, white, male, straight, Christians - is under threat.

It is widespread on social media, where people get away with demonizing Jews or gays, and on Faux News, where hosts fill the minds of their audience with images of an “invasion” of bedraggled immigrants staggering across our southern border and make it sound like 12-year-olds are being dragged into hospitals to have their gender surgically altered.

It’s all bogus, of course. In fact, the more bogus it is, the more these online King Henrys can claim they have nothing to do with the violence that follows. Who, after all, would really buy everything these purveyors of electronic snake oil are selling?

The man who just pleaded guilty to the racially motivated murder of 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket. The brute who went after Hispanics in an El Paso Walmart. People who go beyond their constitutional right to “peaceably assemble” and bring semi-automatic weapons to street protests and rallies in favor of totally false election-fraud theories.

We see it in Utah.

The Legislature goes out of its way, over a governor’s veto, to demonize a handful of transgender public school students by banning their participation in school sports. The St. George City Council fires its respected city manager for allowing a drag show on public property.

Venerated leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak of the need for “muskets” to defend the church’s anti-LGBT teachings. Instructors at the church’s Brigham Young University-Idaho are fired for murky reasons that can only be thought to be punishment for holding views that are not sufficiently homophobic.

Promoting the idea that people not of the favored gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc., by their very existence, pose a threat to your very existence amounts to a call for action, for violence. Purveyors of this rot hide behind the First Amendment and a very long and frayed chain of evidence connecting them to the mayhem that results.

Most of this drivel is constitutionally protected speech. But ethically and culturally it is poison, and everyone who would lead us, socially, politically, religiously, must never tire in calling it out as such.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was never really comfortable around a lot of those New York politicians. Too intense.


Twitter, @debatestate