Logos president Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in the USA Today and on Al Jazeera television in the aftermath of the March 15, 2019 terrorist attacks on Christchurch mosques in New Zealand.
Garcia, an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in New York University’s MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, is working on a book on the consequences of rhetoric that provokes lone wolves to commit acts of violence.
Garcia explores a concept that has been know as Stochastic Terrorism, from the principle in statistics of something being seemingly random but still predictable. It refers to the use of communication to inspire lone wolves to take matters into their own hands and commit violence in the service of the leader and his or her perceived agenda. Having a name allows people to discuss it in something more than the abstract. But it’s an esoteric name that actually inhibits discussion, and tends to confuse and makes discussion of the phenomenon difficult. We need a better name.
“I prefer the name Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism, based on the metaphor of Dog Whistle politics: the use of coded language that conveys one message or meaning to most people, but a different one to members of a certain group or followers of a certain ideology. But a Lone-Wolf Whistle not only evokes a private message or meaning; it also inspires people to take matters into their own hands to commit violence against people perceived to be a threat.
Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism doesn’t make a direct call to violence. Rather, it infuriates, frightens, and mobilizes people to take matters into their own hands.
And there’s a playbook for this kind of violence. It includes dehumanizing and demonizing groups – immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews – and demonizing and de-legitimizing political rivals and critics.”
Garcia hopes to start a national and international conversation about language, violence, and responsible leadership. He says,
“I argue that it is time for engaged citizens, civic leaders, and public officials to name what is happening and to hold leaders accountable for the consequences of their dehumanizing, demonizing, and de-legitimizing language.”
Garcia interviewed with USA Today national writer Marco della Cava the day after the New Zealand terrorist attack in New Zealand. The New Zealand terrorist’s Manifesto saluted U.S. President Donald J. Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
The USA Today wrote,
“New York University communications professor Helio Fred Garcia said the language used by candidate and now President Trump has had a direct effect on inspiring people to commit acts of violence. Trump has also called Mexicans rapists and suggested there were “people that were very fine people, on both sides,” in Charlottesville, where white nationalists carried Nazi flags and chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
“We are seeing a growing number of people who are never on any terrorist watchlist suddenly commit these acts, and they often directly use language that has been a staple of the president’s rhetoric, such as calling immigrants ‘invaders,’” Garcia says.
Garcia says Trump’s inflammatory language around migrant caravans heading to the southern U.S border, which he has often described as an invasion, is an example of what extremists respond to with action. In Pittsburgh, the man who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue posted on social media that Jews were bringing in an invasion of nonwhite immigrants and that he couldn’t “sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”
“It’s time for political leaders to hold the president accountable,” Garcia says.
“Can we hold politicians who sling hate speech accountable? Have leaders in certain countries brought white supremacy to the mainstream with the things they have said?”
“Elizabeth, sadly the answer is yes. I have been studying communication and its impact for nearly 40 years, and for the last 3 years I have been studying Donald Trump’s language. And he uses language to divide people. His very first announcement that he was running for president began by labeling Mexican rapists, and he continued that theme. Hate crimes against people perceived to be Latin in the United States rose dramatically in those six months. He then called for a total and complete ban of Muslims entering the United States. For the next six months there was a significant increase in hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslim.
Now, what’s fascinating about the possible linkage between New Zealand and the United States is in October, the president began aggressively using the language of “invasion,” “invader,” that the nation was at serious risk of fatal harm. And the white supremacist who killed people in the Pittsburgh synagogue, six days before that shooting on his social media post he said, “I see they’ve stopped using the phrase ‘illegal alien.’ They’re using the phrase ‘invader.’ I like this.” On the morning of the shooting in Pittsburgh he said ‘This Jewish group likes to bring in invaders to kill our people. I can’t stand by and have our people be slaughtered, I’m going in. Just like the New Zealand shooting he announced his intention using the language of invasion. And we see that again and again and again. What we need in the Untied States and what I believe we need elsewhere in the world is for political leaders to name this, for civic leaders to name this, and to hold political leaders accountable for the language and for the consequence.”
Ms. Puranam asked,
“Does the existence of white supremacy anywhere mean that attacks like this can happen anywhere?”
“Sadly, white supremacy is prevalent in many cultures. What I worry about is what takes someone from being a latent white supremacist to being an active participant in acts of violence. And what we’ve seen is that leaders with authority who are admired by white supremacists use language that empowers lone wolves to take matters into their own hands. They don’t necessarily directly call for violence. But they use language that scares people. They use language the provokes hate. And some people take that as the signal to take up arms and do something about it. We have seen that among white supremacists in the United States just in the last five months. We’ve had two failed attempts at violence. One with a bomber and another with a military officer who was caught by the military before he began political assassinations. In all of those cases they were white supremacists who had never committed acts of violence but something provoked them, and in all of those instances they quoted the language of President Trump.
So we need to take seriously that people are provoked into acts of violence by hearing the signal. That when the president calls legal immigrants seeking asylum “invaders,” which he did minutes after expressing condolence to the people of New Zealand yesterday — yesterday he expressed condolence and then said the Southern border is under invasion, and he said more than a million illegal aliens are rushing the border and that will cause American fatalities. First of all, that is nonsense. It is not happening. But what is the effect of that language on white supremacists who feel it is their duty to protect the country? It is to take up arms. We need to hold leaders accountable for the consequences of that language.
The full interview is below.
Garcia has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, where he teaches crisis management, and where he was named Executive MBA Great Professor. He is an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he twice received the Dean’s award for teaching excellence, in 1990 and in 2017. He also received awards for outstanding service and for 30 years service in teaching. In that program he teaches courses in communication strategy; in communication ethics, law, and regulation; and in crisis communication.
Garcia is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Professional Development and Leadership program of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Fred is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.
Garcia is the author, most recently, of The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership Press, 2017. That book was named one of the Best Crisis Management Books of All Time (#2 of 51) by Book Authority, the leading non-fiction recommendation site. It is also available as an audiobook at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
He is also the author of The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively, FT Press, 2012. That book was one of eight Leadership titles on the United States Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List from 2013 to 2017. It was published in Chinese in 2014 by Pearson Education Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong and Publishing House of Electronics Industry in Beijing.
Garcia is co-author (with John Doorley) of Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication, third edition 2015; second edition 2011; first edition 2007 by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group; Korean language edition 2016 by Alma Books, Seoul, Republic of Korea. His two-volume book Crisis Communications was published by AAAA Publications in 1999.