I’ve done a technical post on mass shootings before. Specifically what simulations and simulated recreations can tell us in terms of potential outcomes. And as the author of the US Army report on Soldiers who commit mass shootings (authorized by the Office of the Provost Marshall General and US Army Corrections Command via my office at USAWC), I’ll most likely have another technical post on the subject in a few days. And I’ve done numerous posts here on stochastic violence and terrorism – domestic, international, right wing extremist, religious, etc. And it is the stochastic element that I want to talk about right now.
As numerous others have referenced today there is a lot to unpack behind today’s events. Both the shooting targeting Republican members of Congress in Alexandria and the active shooter/mass shooting in San Francisco. And we’ve seen a variety of calls for comity and a reduction in heated and divisive political rhetoric and pointing of fingers as to who is responsible for what. I’m not linking to all of it as I don’t feel like going to dig up the different reporting, but we’ve seen it all day. All of it misses the point.
The real reason we see so much stochastic violence and terrorism in the US is because it is part of our foundational myths and ethos. We rightly, as a point of pride, celebrate our revolutionary success against the British. We turned the first verse of a hard to sing song based on a poem about a slightly obscure battle against the British in a subsequent war into our national anthem. And we have carried through the decades a mistaken belief that citizen militias, still often considered or referred to as the hallmark of American civic pride and engagement, were actually an effective force during the American revolution. As opposed to the actual professional army that General Washington required his aides and lieutenants create – two of whom weren’t even American, because the militia was absolutely useless for his needs in stopping the British forces.
We have a deep seated tradition of civic engagement that refers back to and is rooted in political violence. The first use of stand your ground as a defense was from the 1790s in Philadelphia. It was related to and rooted in this tradition. In this case a radical localist – an extreme, minority offshoot of the anti-Federalists – member of a citizen militia decide to use his firearm in self defense while posting political handbills. His defense argument – that he had an enumerated right to self defense through using his firearm – was rejected by the court. The actual coverage of the event and trial from one of the local Philadelphia papers at the time is attached as a pdf at the bottom of the post.
The reason we have so much stochastic violence and terrorism is because we’re Americans. We have a civic inheritance that includes the justifications for it. Including that of the radical localist offshoot of the anti-Federalists that teach us that all government above the municipal level is always potentially tyrannical and the purpose of the armed citizen, as part of the citizen militia, is to provide a check on tyrannical government. We are the inheritors of a revolutionary state and society. And the inheritors of political traditions that are rooted in the revolutionary politics of the Founding – the Federalists, the anti-Federalists, and the radical localists. Each had different understandings and views of the citizen militia, of the proper role for an armed citizenry, but each were reflections of and responses to the revolutionary ethos that led to the split with Britain and the founding of the US.
And we have stochastic violence and terrorism because Americans just aren’t joiners. Despite Putnam’s Bowling Alone, which makes the mistake of understanding American social interactions through the forty to fifty year window between the end of WW II and the late 90s/early 00s, and ignore everything that came before the 1940s, Americans just don’t like to belong to groups. We self atomize. We don’t like to associate. And while modern technology has made it easier to form new associations, it also makes it easier to isolate ourselves into groups that are insular and insulating.
What happened today, and what will happen next week with the next mass shooting or terrorist attack or hate crime, isn’t an aberration. It is pure Americana. It is at our core of who we are as a people. If you spend enough time promoting the idea that one’s political opponents aren’t really even human or that the 2nd Amendment exists to prevent governmental tyranny, then you’re going get what happened today in both Alexandria and San Francisco. It doesn’t matter if the people making the assertions were just being hyperbolic or really didn’t mean it. Nor does it matter if you were actually and only messaging to the people who you identify as your side. All that matters is that someone hears the message over and over and over again, internalizes it, and then acts on it.
What happened today has happened many times before in the US. The ideas and messaging that promote and produce it have a long lineage in the US. And it will all happen again. The saying that “G-d made man, Samuel Colt made all men equal” doesn’t just apply to people that look like you, vote like you, worship like you, and behave like you. And, as a result, you get what happened on both the east and west coast today.
And all of this is why you get this type of paradox:
Versus Senator Paul today as quoted by NBC:
“We’re just like normal people, I go to the grocery store like a normal person. I buy my groceries. I go to the gas station. We practice out there and we just … we live in a country where we hope there’s not such hatred or craziness and, I don’t know, disappointing, sad.”
Here’s the pdf:
Duane 1799 – Report of extraordinary transactions at Philadelphia (1)