This Week on Sprouts

Incendiary Language and its Role in Inciting Violence


Produced by MK Mendoza

Author Helio Fred Garcia speaks with KSFR’s MK Mendoza about how incendiary language can condition an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against a targeted group, rival, or critics. His latest book, Words on Fire is about the power of communication to do great harm, and how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders accountable to prevent such harm.

His book includes a history of such rhetoric, and identifies a playbook consisting of twelve forms of communication that typically precede genocides and other acts of mass violence. The Nazis used all twelve; the Rwandan Hutu used ten. He argues that Trump uses all twelve. Proven predictable, the language triggers lone wolves to commit violence. Since 9/11 the use of rhetoric that provokes violence has been known as stochastic terrorism, a phrase that tends to confuse and that makes discussion difficult. Helio suggests a more accessible name: lone-wolf whistle violence, on the model of dog whistle politics. He draws on the most recent scholarship on lone wolves, their mindset, and what it takes to activate them to commit violence.

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