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.
As a highly engaging and well-spoken professional communicator, Helio's powerful words bring wisdom and insight as to the dangers born from the use of the wrong words in the wrong context. He shines light on the all too infrequently talked about yet vitally important power of words. His argument is compelling, cogent and even prophetic reflected against the backdrop of the country near paralyzed in fear and equally torn apart by growing conflict, division and death.
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.
The book documents Trump’s increasingly dangerous rhetoric through his campaign and first term, and how some lone wolves were motivated by the rhetoric to commit violence. It also describes the changes in the nation’s political culture and media that led to Trump’s nomination and presidency. It profiles leaders who dialed back their rhetoric when it was shown to put people’s lives in danger. Words on Fire closes with a call to action: He argues that we can learn the lessons of today to prepare for tomorrow, to help civic leaders, engaged citizens, journalists, and public officials recognize the phenomenon and take steps to hold other leaders accountable in the future when they use such language.
To find out more about his book, see link below:
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