• Assault on Democracy: The New Conspiracism

    Conspiracy theory has always been part of political life. Sometimes far-fetched, sometimes accurate, and sometimes a confusing mix of the two, traditional conspiracy theory tries to peel away deceptive masks to show how the world really works. It demands a cause proportionate to the dire effect. In a recently published book, two scholars argue that in today’s conspiracies, conspiracy and theory have been decoupled. We therefore face a distinctively malignant new phenomenon of conspiracy without the theory. Like all conspiracism, it rests on the certainty that things are not as they seem, but conspiracy without the theory dispenses with the burden of explanation. We see no insistent demand for proof, no exhaustive amassing of evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of the operators plotting in the shadows. Conspiracy without the theory exists less to explain than to affirm. The result  is toxic for a stable society and democratic politics.

  • When the Lights Went Out: On Blackouts and Terrorism

    When the Northeast Blackout of 2003 killed electricity to more than 50 million people in the United States and Canada, the FBI, like many in New York who were still reeling from the September 11, 2001 attacks, shared these concerns. Just the previous year the agency concluded that terrorists were studying weaknesses in power grids. Meanwhile, groups across the country had been preparing for and speculating about doomsday scenarios — scenarios that the first moments of the 2003 blackout mimicked to a disquieting degree.

  • How Data Privacy Laws Can Fight Fake News

    Governments from Russia to Iran have exploited social media’s connectivity, openness, and polarization to influence elections, sow discord, and drown out dissent. While responses have also begun to proliferate, more still are needed to reduce the inherent vulnerability of democracies to such tactics. Recent data privacy laws may offer one such answer in limiting how social media uses personal information to micro-target content: Fake news becomes a lot less scary if it can’t choose its readers.

  • Want to Stop Mass Shootings?

    “There are a whole range of things that could play a role in prevention [of gun violence], including better parenting, less racism, better education, more job opportunities,” says Harvard’s David Hemenway. “All of these things might have some effect on reducing shootings in the U.S. We should improve all those things. But the most cost-effective interventions involve doing something about guns. For example, as far as we can tell, virtually all developed countries have violent video games and people with mental health issues. There’s no evidence that I know of that shows that people in the U.S. have more mental health issues, especially violent mental health issues. Compared to other high-income countries we are just average in terms of non-gun crime and non-gun violence. The elephant in the room, the thing that makes us stand out among the 29 other high-income countries, is our guns and our weak gun laws. As a result, we have many more gun-related problems than any other high-income country.”

  • Mass Shootings Aren’t Growing More Common – and Evidence Contradicts Common Stereotypes about the Killers

    Responses to the El Paso and Dayton tragedies included many of the same myths and stereotypes Americans have grown used to hearing in the wake of a mass shooting. As part of my work as a psychology researcher, I study mass homicides, as well as society’s reaction to them. A lot of bad information can follow in the wake of such emotional events; clear, data-based discussions of mass homicides can get lost among political narratives. One example: Mass shooters in the United States are not all white supremacists. Overall, the ethnic composition of the group of all mass shooters in the U.S. is roughly equivalent to the American population, and most mass homicide perpetrators don’t proclaim any allegiance to a particular ideology at all.

  • Refuting the Theory of Collective (Non-)action

    The theory of collective action, which has been held for over 50 years, states that there is no incentive for individuals in large groups to participate in the provision of work for public benefit such as democracy, environmental protection, or peace. The main issue is the free-rider problem: Climate protection and the right to personal freedoms benefit all, regardless of whether everyone contributes to them or not. It is therefore a perfectly rational strategy for the individual solely to be a beneficiary.

  • The Promise and Pitfalls of Universal Background Checks

    Now is as good a time as any to talk about measures that could affect the killings where that is not the case. And as far as gun-control proposals go, universal background checks are among the better ones: They are politically feasible, might actually reduce gun violence on the margins, and would not unduly burden law-abiding gun owners. There are countless reasons to be less trigger-happy about them than their most ardent supporters are, but if political pressure forces Republicans to give ground on something big, this might be the best way to go.

  • Is White Terrorism the New 9/11?

    Is there a danger of overreaction to the mass shootings in El Paso,, Dayton, and other places? Should America confront its fringes with the wrath it brought to the Middle East after September 11, 2001? Two decades of evidence argues against changing the whole way we do business in the face of a few fanatics. In any event, what would a “war on white nationalism” actually entail? Will it be a decades-long slog, this time on American soil? Will it feature the mistakes of the war or terror? Curtis Mills writes: “Before it embarks upon a new, ill-considered crusade, America should contemplate the costs and consequences of its last war on terror.”

  • Don’t Ban Assault Weapons—Tax Them

    The United States is debating what to do about assault-style weapons, what gun-rights advocates like to call modern sporting rifles. Gun-rights champions argue that these weapons are in common use, and hence protected by the Second Amendment. Gun-control supporters respond that these weapons have no place on our streets and ought to be banned. But there’s a better solution, and one that avoids the constitutional objections typically raised by gun-rights advocates. Rather than banning these weapons, the time has come to tax them.

  • America Should View China as a Hostile, Revolutionary Power

    Like cholesterol, great powers can be good, in that they accept the present international order, or bad, in that they do not. China does not, and seeks to overturn the contemporary order the West created.  This is the source of what is already the great conflict of 21st century. China is not a status quo great power. But as important as these developments are, there is a greater concern. This is the intellectual framework that China is creating under the guise of ‘a community with a shared future for mankind,’ most recently expressed in the July 2019 defense white paper. This shared future is certain to be dystopian. Any community that the CCP creates will be totalitarian and oppressive by its nature. Any shared future that it seeks to create will be one in which the rest of the world adapts to serve the interests of Beijing.

  • Good for Google, Bad for America

    Google’s decision to start an AI lab in China while ending an AI contract with the Pentagon, is disturbing. Goggle may argue that it operates in a world where “AI and its benefits have no borders,” but Peter Thiel argues that this way of thinking works only inside Google’s cosseted Northern California campus, quite distinct from the world outside. “The Silicon Valley attitude sometimes called ‘cosmopolitanism’ is probably better understood as an extreme strain of parochialism, that of fortunate enclaves isolated from the problems of other places — and incurious about them,” he writes. In the 1950s, the cliché was that “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Google makes no such claim for itself; “it would be too obviously false,” Thiel writes. Instead, Google talks about what is good for the world – but “by now we should understand that the real point of talking about what’s good for the world is to evade responsibility for the good of the country.”

  • A Reformed White Nationalist Says the Worst Is Yet to Come

    It’s going to get worse. That’s the warning of a former violent extremist, Christian Picciolini, who joined a neo-Nazi movement 30 years ago and now tries to get people out of them. White-supremacist terrorists—the ones who have left dozens dead in attacks in Pittsburgh, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, in recent months—aren’t just trying to outdo one another, he told us. They’re trying to outdo Timothy McVeigh. Picciolini said that even if the U.S. could get a handle on its gun problem, terrorists can always find other ways. McVeigh had his car bomb, the September 11th hijackers had their airplanes, Islamic State attackers have suicide bombings, trucks, and knives. “I have to ask myself, Do we have white-nationalist airline pilots?

  • Deadly Violence Heightens Concerns about Domestic Terrorism and White Supremacists

    Federal and local authorities recently have said there are heightened concerns about domestic terrorism and white supremacy. In July, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a majority of domestic terrorism cases the bureau has investigated are motivated by white supremacy. Wray assured the panel that the FBI was “aggressively” pursuing domestic terrorism and hate crimes. “Our focus is on the violence,” he said. “We, the FBI, don’t investigate the ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence.”

  • The DOJ Is Finally Bridging the Gap Between Online Radicalization and Domestic Terrorism

    The El Paso, Texas, mass shooting that left 22 dead may actually spell the end for one of white nationalism’s greatest resources: the online radicalization of potential domestic terrorists. The El Paso massacre may be the end of the free speech defense. On Sunday, federal authorities announced that they are not just charging the El Paso suspect with federal hate crimes as they did with the Poway shooter, but with domestic terrorism as well. The decision doesn’t just suggest the Department of Justice (DOJ) is reconsidering whether online forums for white nationalism are a threat worth pursuing at the federal level; by applying “domestic terrorism” to El Paso, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is also actively pushing boundaries of “association” beyond explicit membership.

  • How Does Online Racism Spawn Mass Shooters?

    More and more experts classify mass shootings inspired by white nationalist ideology as terrorism — part of a global white nationalist movement that recruits or inspires potential shooters. The mechanisms of recruiting white nationalist terrorists work much as with other terrorist groups such as the Islamic State; they take lonely young men and give them a sense of purpose and identity. But instead of the alternative society offered by Islamic State membership, violent and racist online platforms build toward single murderous events. The language used on the forums to encourage potential shooters combines nihilism and toxic masculinity, goading them with anti-gay slurs and challenging them as “wannabes” if they fail.