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No, words are not violence

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Are you a stochastic terrorist?

Turns out I might be. Imagine the embarrassment. I didn’t know there was such a thing until I read about it in The New York Times.

A stochastic terrorist, evidently, is someone who uses “mass, public communication, usually against a particular individual or group, which incites or inspires acts of terrorism which are statistically probable but happen seemingly at random.”

Got that?

A friend used to quip that terms like stochastic terrorism are fertilized in an underground Czech lab sponsored by — can we still say George Soros? — flash frozen and overnighted to a humanities professor at an Ivy League who then nurtures and guides them into the American lexicon.

But don’t listen to him. He may be a stochastic terrorist, too.

I shouldn’t joke. Crude pipe bombs were mailed this week to Soros, leading U.S. Democrats and a high-profile cable news outlet. There’s nothing funny about that, and the arrest of a suspect in the case is good news. But I’d argue without a trace of mirth that politically manufactured terms like stochastic terrorism are more sinister and dangerous in the long-run than whatever happened this week.

The term seeks to stifle speech progressives don’t like by arbitrarily ascribing future terrorism to it. Speech equals violence, it says, so hold that news release: statistically probable but seemingly random violence is sure to break out because of it.

This suppressive new orthodoxy has been playing out at liberal colleges for more than a decade, with areas of campuses set aside for free speech as if they’re smoking areas. Meanwhile, Das Kapital remains in the curriculum.

Free-speech conservatives have no problem with that, of course. But how do those who equate speech with violence allow Marx to be taught when his writings, according to this thinking, resulted in the loss of millions of lives?

There’s no question that the tone of American politics is lamentable. But blaming blowhards for terrorism is wrong, even supremely talented blowhards like Donald Trump. Trump’s words during the 2016 campaign should be considered unacceptable in U.S. politics, but words are still just words, as much as we may detest them. It’s the triggerman who pulls the trigger and no one else. That used to be considered obvious. Not anymore. Now, a thousand people are responsible for every harm.

A couple of weeks ago at The Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan — where I once served as president — a brick was thrown through a window, among other physical vandalism, after the club invited a rabble-rouser to speak there. The speaker didn’t toss the brick, no matter how one spins it. The brick thrower did, all by himself. What a radical notion.

After the speaker’s remarks, fights broke out on the streets of the Upper East Side between left wing protesters (they call themselves “anti-fascists,” but act like them) and a brawling “alt-right” bar gang called the Proud Boys who haven’t yet learned how to act like men. Arrests ensued and indictments are pending for Antifa and Proud Boys members alike.

In lieu of prison time, Proud Boys and Antifas found guilty of crimes might be forced to debate nonstop for a period of, say, a month. No clubs, knives or brass knuckles permitted — only words. That ought to cure them. I mean, how many times can one say, “No, you’re an idiot”?

Chaos theorists insist that a butterfly in California can cause a hurricane in Thailand merely by flapping its wings. And yet they allow the practice to continue. From where does such reckless restraint spring?

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

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