Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law. — Article 20, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The various nations have their own ways of implementing this attempt to control the evil of the world. British Common Law dealt with “inchoate offences,” that is, beginning actions not fully formed, which included “persuading, encouraging, instigating, pressuring or threatening so as to cause another to commit a crime.” This allowed police to intervene before a crime was committed.
The U.S. is much more protective of free speech: “The degree to which incitement is protected speech is determined by the “imminent lawless action test.” That word “imminent” allows latitude for debate. In recent mass shootings by America’s internal terrorists, internet and social media postings played a major role. Only recently are we labeling acts by domestic groups terrorism.
Our counter-terrorism forces, police and FBI have faced a clear partition between international and domestic terrorism, their methods more restricted for internal groups. The Secretary of State can formally designate a foreign group a terrorist organization, which allows the FBI to pursue U.S. persons supporting that group with court-supervised surveillance and social media leads. We have no comparable means for domestic terrorist groups. Individuals can be sought for specific crimes committed. Domestic terrorism requires as many arrests as international, with less legal and financial support to handle it.
Jihadists and violent white supremacists have this in common, that they depend on the anger of alienated young men, whom they recruit and indoctrinate on the internet, which has become a toxic force. Beginning roughly in 2000, college educators noticed a rise in emotional instability, nearly 50 percent of students suffering greatly increased anxiety. Lives lived too much online deteriorate.
Terrorist groups avidly seek these troubled individuals, pick targets to attack and issue manifestos. Al Queda and Islamist leadership is top-down, while white supremacy counts on self-radicalization, as do Antifa and Incels (involuntary celibates who viciously disparage, rape and kill women). Radicalized youth develop their individual mix of racism, anti-religious hatred and self-aggrandizement, which sometimes explodes in a mass shooting.
The FBI is stepping up surveillance, soliciting proposals from outside vendors for a contract to pull vast quantities of public (not private) data from social media “to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests.” This challenges privacy issues, including Facebook’s ban on using its data for surveillance. However, it is increasingly necessary to prevent or respond to attacks.
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are considering expanding background checks for purchasing weapons and red-flag laws permitting court-ordered confiscation of guns from individuals deemed dangerous. Law enforcement would find knowledge of serious behavior in high school useful if confidential access were granted. Psychiatrists stress it is difficult to predict when behavior will lead to a mass shooting. Flagging a person is a serious matter that teachers, acquaintances and family are reluctant to use; yet it may be risky to withhold concerns. Law enforcement needs to be aware of potentially dangerous people. We hardly want to be like China, tracking the entire population, but common sense says some persons must be watched, intercepted and redirected to treatment.
Freedom to own weapons has been a red-hot issue for decades. Fully automatic weapons were banned for civilian use in the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. In September 1994, Congress passed a 10-year ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and prohibited manufacture of large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices except for law enforcement and the military. The reason given not to renew it in 2004 was research showed such weapons “were rarely used in gun crimes”! Numerous attempts to reinstate it failed, including one immediately following the 2012 slaughter of kindergarten children at Sandy Hook. Reportedly, tens of millions of semi-automatic weapons are in circulation. I see little chance of a ban.
A new movie called “The Hunt,” if allowed to air, features hunting “deplorables” (Hillary’s term for blue-collar workers or country people?) — believe me, those people shoot back! Movies promoting such things are incitement in my book; imagine civil war with automatic weapons! I like British law’s detailing “actions not fully formed,” which law enforcement can pursue as crimes before someone acts on them. We treasure our freedoms, but we need to make careful and sensible exceptions in order to deal with people and groups promoting horrendous violence.
Verna Benham, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.