We need to constantly remind ourselves that the vast majority of those who sound violent do not act violently.
Wow. Hasn’t the US presidential election been something else? We were all riveted by the seesawing of the results as President Trump seemed to be winning only to see Joe Biden end up on top. Or is he? At the time of writing it is 99.99% certain that Mr. Biden will become in January the 46th President of the United States of America, Mr. Trump’s threats of lawsuits notwithstanding.
That almost half of those who cast ballots voted for the incumbent boggles many of us. A man who was outwardly racist, who encouraged dictators, who undermined longstanding alliances, who was frankly not a very nice man, still appealed to half of Americans. Go figure.
One constituency which came out wholeheartedly in support of Mr. Trump was what is loosely called the ‘far right‘. This unsatisfactory term is used to describe a whole range of actors, some of which are best seen as white nationalists or white supremacists, others neo-Nazis, still others violent people who want to overthrow the government.
Mr. Trump (in)famously called on one such group to ‘Stand down and stand by‘ during his debate with Joe Biden (the group in question is known as the Proud Boys). Many saw this as a call to action and speculated that he was in essence giving them the authority to carry out attacks when the time is right.
Building on this, some have fretted that there will be a wave of far right violence in the US in the wake of Mr. Trump’s loss. The more he talks about voter fraud and his accusations that his second term in office was ‘stolen’, the more this ‘base’ (and I am using that word in both meanings!) gets angry and may take it upon itself to change what happened.
In other words, far right extremists are on the cusp of a wave of terrorist attacks in the days and weeks/months to come. So far, only two weeks have passed since the election and much may still come to pass. We will have to wait and see.
But, to date, where is all the violence? Where are all the attacks? With the sole exception of a dust up in Washington on November 15, which appeared to be a confrontation between ‘leftist’ and far right ‘activists’, nothing has happened. Yes, I know that past performance is not indicative of future results, but so far so good.
So, what does all this mean? Several things.
First, despite the level of rhetoric and the easy access to firearms in the US, we actually see very few acts of terrorist violence, from all sides of the ideological spectrum, in that country. Secondly, again despite the atmosphere in the US not much seems to be happening. A recent FBI report which stated that hate crimes in the US rose ‘only’ 2.7% in 2019 came as a shock to me: I would have thought it would have been much, much higher in light of the atmosphere Mr. Trump has helped feed over the past four years. Thirdly, as I have said and written on many, many occasions, the reality is that there are many who talk the talk but few who walk the walk. This still appears to apply in the US and elsewhere.
I am not trying to say that we will not see a rise in extremism of this ilk in the days, weeks, months and years to come. We very well may. Yet, the departure of Mr. Trump from the presidency may help tone down the rhetoric and possible acts of violence since the groups which saw him as a supporter, or even a leader, no longer have that high-profile figure in their world and their worldview.
The lesson here? Do not leap from what people say to assume what they will do. Online idiocy and hate often stays there. Most people are either reluctant, incapable, or cowards, or some combination of the three, when it comes to translating thoughts into action.
And we can be thankful for that.
- Eric Schmitt: Covering the terrorism beat for the New York Times - December 1, 2020
- How does assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist make us safer? - December 1, 2020
- December 1, 2017: Terrorist shooting in Pakistan - December 1, 2020