Monday, February 22, 2010

Terrorist Act or Suicide?

Although Tiger Woods' pitch to the public and advertising agents to "please be able to respect him [e.g. promote him/buy things with his face on them] again one day" took front line in the news last week, the more important story to me was the story of Joe Stack.

Andrew Joseph Stack, was the man who flew a small plane into an Austin building housing IRS offices, killing himself and one other person, Vernon Hunter, an IRS worker and Vietnam vet. From all the photos, Stack looks like an average dude about my parents age, who ran a software consulting business. But from his manifesto, or suicide note, which can be seen at Smoking Gun ... it appears there was more going on in his head.

A lot of folks I know are calling him a "home grown terrorist" ... and while I feel what he did was despicable, I'm not sure I agree. Terrorism I feel is defined pretty well in the non-definition given by Wikipedia... "Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.[1] At present, there is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism.[2][3] Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians)."

I'll grant you that Mr. Stack targeted civilians, but he certainly wasn't trying to coerce anything, nor did he seem to have a coherent ideological goal. He was very upset at the tax system in our nation, and convinced that unless there was a body count, no one was going to notice his need for change.

I go back and forth on dubbing him crazy or not. Sure we would all love to pay less taxes. And sure we would all love to see the extremely wealthy pay their fair share. But from the photos in the news it looked like he had hobbies, a house, children, a paying job. Paying income tax didn't give him diseases or make him homeless, or even cause him to not be able to afford a guitar. He merely wasn't one of the wealthy elite. He may not have had enough money to travel to exotic locations or to buy a Mercedes. Maybe he wasn't going to be able to retire as early as he originally would have liked. That doesn't seem like the most hard up life that there is out there. And it doesn't seem like a reason to off oneself. So on that line of thinking, I do think he might have been a little unbalanced.

But he also makes good points. After the Great Depression, a lot of bankers did off themselves. And now, if our bankers and Wall Street screw up royally, they get a bailout, and then they get their bonus, while laying off the people who make a fraction of what they do who will never see a bonus. The people to whom that bonus would have been a lifetime of salaries... and to whom it may mean staying in their home, feeding their kids, etc. Not just whether or not they're going to remain a millionaire that year.

And while Stack's manifesto did say he's sure he wouldn't be the first or the last to feel this way, it did not encourage everyone to go out and attempt to blow up their IRS office. So in short, I don't feel that he's a terrorist. I feel that he's a tragedy... He had some good points, and it looks like at one point in time in his life he tried to be an activist and get people to hear those points, but failed. I think it's sad that he felt he had to end his own life. I think it's sadder still that his daughter calls him a hero to the press. That adds insult to injury to the Vernon Hunter family. But saddest of all is that a man who could have really just used a good shrink and a raise is getting dubbed a terrorist.


  1. That poor dude had had enough, I just want to know how he had his own plane if he was in so much debt to the IRS?

  2. Gotta disagree with you on this one, Mae. The dude used asymmetric violence to make a political point. If, say, a depressed Muslim man crashed a small aircraft in to a courthouse because he was upset by US policies at Guantanamo, I don't think anyone would have a problem calling that terrorism. I, too, feel bad for the guy in some ways, and of course our tax structure is fubar, but that doesn't (to me) change the fact that Mr. Stack chose to end his life in a violent terrorist act. Word.

  3. i tend to agree with you, Meghan, that it was not terrorism, or at least "organized" terrorism. but i also agree with LCM that had he been a Muslim doing it, everyone would be calling it terrorism.

    but what if worry most over this is whether there is anti-federal government group out that that will see him as a hero and martyr. right now, his action (suicide) is a bit too radical for even the most conservative politicians to publicly praise him, but i wouldn't be surprised to see a convergence of some who see him as a hero a with something like the "tea party" movement.

  4. See Crar, I would definitely brand him a murderer. But I can't go quite as far as to say terrorist. Because while he did use violence to prove a point, I feel like it wasn't a coherent one... he rambled about being taken advantage of by the tax system. Plus he didn't encourage solidarity or other folks to follow suit. I don't know, I guess if his intention was to take out everyone in the building for being soldiers of the man, I could call him a terrorist, but I'm not sure he wanted to take anyone's life but his own. But then, it's hard to ask questions of a dead man.

    And Mary, yeah, if the man owed so much to the IRS, how did he own a car, a house AND a plane? I think he was just deluded and nuts.

  5. Religion and or race has nothing to do with terrorism. The Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism against Great Britain.

    Terrorism is a violent reaction to oppression, if, you feel that the IRS is an oppressor than actions to kill or coerce their actions is terrorism.

    Nevertheless, great post Meghan.

  6. Wooooo, high risk working for the IRS!


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