Feb 18, 2010

Joseph Andrew Stack III: Definitely Not a Terrorist, So Move Along, Folks

Left: Smoking building that houses the Internal Revenue Service in Austin, Texas; photo by Jack Plunkett/AP

I have been scratching my head following the media coverage of Joe Stack, the pilot who crashed his plane into an Austin building that holds regional offices of the Internal Revenue Service. The disturbed rantings of the software engineer do not puzzle me, as most of us can examples of people who gradually lost their ability to handle reality and begin to see the government as an enemy that needs to be eliminated.

Like Timothy McVeigh, for example.

No, my bewilderment is the quick denial by a variety of government officials that this attack represents an act of terrorism. This denial has emanated from the top of the federal chain, with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs chiming in that Stack's attack "does not appear" to be terrorism.

Of course, defining terrorism is an intellectual exercise in itself, and if we put 100 terrorism experts in the same room, we would wind up with a massive catering bill but little in the way of consensus on a terrorism definition. Still, we have an enraged protagonist with a pathological hatred of government who flew an airplane into a building containing what he perceived to be his chief nemesis with the expressed purpose of deadly violence. He certainly was not offering fast weight loss tips, right?

Heck, Joe Stack even left a detailed manifesto that could have been penned by any international terrorist with the inclusion of a few "down with the U.S." statements. It certainly fits in with the anti-government ideology of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and elements of this manifesto fit the rantings of Unabomber Theodore John Kaczynski.

Yet to listen to government officials one would think that Joe Stack's actions had absolutely no political aims behind them, which is an important component of identifying a terrorist act. Stack's own words sound like the sort of rhetoric a suicide bomber would use: ""Well Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different: take my pound of flesh and sleep well."

I am not sure which approach to terrorism annoys me more: the Bush administration's near-constant mantra warning of terrorism lurking in every dark corner or the Obama administration's seeming unwillingness to use the word "terrorism" in an official pronouncement.

Time to move along now, kiddies: nothing to see here.


Anonymous said...

If Stack is not a domestic terrorist then Tiger Woods is a monogamous choir boy.


Anonymous said...

It was just a matter of time before the Tea Baggers revolted!!!

historymike said...


Agreed - just because Stack might have been mentally unstable does not take away from the inherently violent politics he practiced today.

historymike said...


Not sure we can label Stack a Tea Party afficianado. He sounds more old school populist than anything else, though of course the anti-tax stance is in line with Tea Party rhetoric. Still, I think Stack was more of a tax dodger than tax activist - his life was a series of run-ins with the IRS over failure to file and pay taxes.

Anonymous said...

If the guy's name was Ahmed it would sure be terrorism!!!

Charlie said...

I too was surprised when it was immediately declared not an act of terrorism. A plane flown intentionally into a government building to make a statement is definitely a terrorist act in my book.

If he had been Arabic or a practicing Muslim instead of an American citizen, you could bet they would be looking for links to terror groups.

Anonymous said...

Not to yank any chains, but how can you be sure?
It can always be a cover up, and a not very good one. It seems just a way to control public perception, that all is right.
Someday they might think of HEMP, and then planes will rain, and that would be no picnic.

Anonymous said...

It is a terrorist attack. Just like that guy in Texas. Doesn't matter that he was crazy, they both had something against the government and killed people. HE IS A TERRORIST! Only differences were different ideology and different color of skin.

mud_rake said...

Anonynous @ If the guy's name was Ahmed it would sure be terrorism!!!


Anonymous said...

I do not put stack in the same category as foreign terrorists. When reading his manifesto it is hard to say he was mentally imbalanced. Some people have such a high level of integrity that they simply can't take the BS. I see him more as a working class hero who had the balls to stand up for what is right. It did not appear to have a political orientation just discussed what he saw as injustice that crossed political lines. He would probably of viewed the tea party crew as uneducated complainers compared to him. Bottom line he was right.

Mad Jack said...

Although Stack's manifesto deals almost exclusively with the I.R.S. I think it's likely that Stack found he was unable to deal with government bureaucracy in general. Consider that most governmental agencies attempt to deny rather than provide goods and services, and that government workers are notoriously obstructive when dealing with the public. The printed version of the U.S. Federal tax code is measured in feet and has been that way for quite a while.

Clearly Stack's suicide constitutes an act of terrorism, but that does not preclude Stack as being labeled a patriot and hero by a certain segment of the population. The real question is: how well organized is that segment?

My own experience with the I.R.S. has convinced me that the evil one is alive and well and living comfortably in the United States.

Anonymous said...

When will you people actually wake up and understand that the Federal Income Tax is UNCONSTITUTIONAL? And NO, it doesn't pay for things like education, medicare, or anything citizen-related...it goes STRAIGHT to pay off the national debt that the boys on Capitol Hill(including the President)have racked up over the years.

Paul Cornies said...

I too was humoured by the spin of this news story.

microdot said...

Reading the different takes on the spin of Stacks act, I can only comment on the schizophrenic, dysfunctionality of American politics and the traumatized walking wounded that make up the American public.
In any dictionary, encyclopedia, definition that is not parsed by political nit picking...this was a terrorist act.
A man flew a plane into a building and killed people to make a political statement.
Whether you agree with him or don't regarding his "protest" of the American tax system...this was the same as wearing exploding underwear or shoes on a plane, a vest of explosives in an Iraqi Market, a Roadside bomb in guerilla warfare against American troops in Afghanistan...
Explain to me how this was different that commandeering a 747 passenger airline and crashing into the World Trade Center? If you think you can, than I already have accused you of dissimilation and cheapening the value of every life of every victim of 9/11...
Spin on, but I smelled the violence of 9/11...I saw it with my own eyes.
It's a cheap piece of video tape you might have seen over and over again, replayed until it became a banal yahoo patriotic icon with which you hide behind in your xenophobic fear of the "other"...
but more poepl who were realtime eye witnesses to 9/11 realize that it is time to open your eyes and understand what it was all about.

Sorry, but this really pisses me off..........

SensorG said...

Not completely unrelated -

Many talk radio and right leaning blogs are up in arms so to speak about the IRS ordering 60 shot guns.

Could it be because they may be needing a better defense for just these very nuts.


Craig said...

I think they mean to say he's not part of a terrorist organization and no further threat was imminent.

He did commit an act of domestic terrorism, but its pretty clear he acted alone. He wasn't a member of Al-Stacka, a terrorist group pledged to bring down the IRS and all those who are in cahoots with them.

We don't need to waterboard his family, invade Iran, or even raise the threat level to mauve because of his heinous act.