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This afternoon, Joseph Stack flew a small plane into the Austin, Texas office of the IRS.  As a suicide note, Joe Stack left a rambling, 3,000 word letter that described his decades-long battle with the IRS, his hatred and distrust of the government,. his apparent embrace of communism, and his refusal to continue on as a cog in the machine.  Having reached the end of his rope, Joe Stack decided to both enact his revenge on the IRS and send a message to the people.  Now we're stll not sure exactly what the message was.  Its a bit hard to peg down.  But we are all incredibly familiar with the method that Joe Stack chose to employ in delivering his message.  Joe Stack chose to fly an airplane into a building.  And people who fly airplanes into buildings are terrorists.  

Shortly after Joe Stack flew his plane into the Austin office of the IRS, the powers that be announced he was not a terrorist, and that his action was not an act of terrorism.  To put it simply, we often understand terrorism as political violence.  Violence intended to send some sort of political message.  Now most reasonable people would agree that a man who flys a plane into a building full of people probably intends on hurting or killing at least some of those people.  And most of us would further agree that attempting to hurt and kill people with physical violence is, well, a violent thing.  So it follows that Joe Stack did a violent thing today.  And he did a violent thing - a terribly violent thing - to signify his hatred of the IRS and his outrage at the government.  And most people would agree that being outraged at the government is a political position.  So it follows that Joe Stack did a terribly violent thing in furtherance of his political agenda.  Joe Stack engaged in political violence, or violence intended to send a political message.  And violence intended to send a political message is terrorism.  So Joe Stack is a terrorist.

The problem with suggesting otherwise, with labeling Joe Stack as something other than a terrorist - something like "just a terribly disgruntled taxpayer" -  is the work that language does.  No doubt, some folks will laugh at that, but that's really what we're facing here: language doing work.  Whether we go with Focault or Led Zepplin, its the same idea:  You know sometimes words have meanings.  And here, there is a real danger in putting Joe Stack in the "non-terrorist" category.  

Certainly, I understand the government's desire to avoid labeling Joe Stark a terrorist.  Yes, I understand that calling today's events terrorism might scare some people up; might confuse some people; might be politically inexpedient (que Dick Cheney comments re this being Obama's fault).  But these are minor inconveniences, compared to the flip side.  

By labeling Joe Stack as a "not-terrorist", we find ourselves drawing a distinction that is non-sensical, indefensible, and dangerous.  If Joe Stack is not a terrorist, it follows that flying planes into crowded buildings is sometimes terrorism but sometimes not.  How do we decide?  Does the lable of terrorism or terrorist hinge on the nature of the underlying political ideology?  When a Muslim suicide bomber flys a plane into a building purportedly in the name of Allah, that is terrorism.  When the anti-imperalist, pro-proliteriate Weathermen bomb government buildings, that is terrorism.  But when Joe Stack flys a plane into a government bulding in the name of hatred for the IRS and distrust of the government....  it is somehow not terrorism.    

In our lexicon of evil, we reserve "terrorism" for the most hideous of acts.  There are criminals... and then there are terrorists.  And terrorists are the worst of the worst.  Assigning the label of terrorist to some individuals who engage in political violence but excluding Joe Stack from that category effectively signals that Joe Stack is not that bad.  And somewhere out there in America, there is some self-proclaimed Tea Party patriot watching the news, and thinking to himself, "They're not calling Joe Stack a terrorist.  Because Joe Stack wasn't evil like a terrorist.  He wasn't nearly as bad as a terrorist.  He just hated the government.  He was just a disgruntled tax payer, like me."  

To me, that's a problem.  

Originally posted to Justashotaway on Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 07:33 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    Faith in oneself is not trusting that you will always be victorious. It is trusting that you will either die or get back up.

    by Justashotaway on Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 07:33:28 PM PST

  •  The news is kinda (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotusmaglite, jlms qkw

    catching on:

    AUSTIN, Texas – A softwareengineer furious with the Internal Revenue Service launched a suicide attack on the agency Thursday by crashing his small plane into an office building containing nearly 200 IRS employees, setting off a raging fire that sent workers running for their lives.

    Thursday was not the first time a tax protester went after an Austin IRS building. In 1995, Charles Ray Polk plotted to bomb the IRS Austin Service Center. He was released from prison in October of last year.

    The tax protest movement has a long history in the U.S. and was a strong component of anti-government sentiments that surged during the 1990s. Anti-tax protesters typically believe that they do not have to pay income taxes. Some have been convicted in recent years for targeting IRS officials for harassment and even murder.

    "Everybody lies... except POLITICIANS? House, I do believe you are a romantic."

    by indiemcemopants on Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 07:38:30 PM PST

  •  His Note Promotes Violence for Political Change (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nespolo, Justashotaway

    That's the dictionary definition of terrorism.

    I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less.  ...violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

    He's an educated plane-crashing martyr terrorist.

    We've been hit by them before.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 07:46:48 PM PST

  •  The only difference (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nespolo, Justashotaway

    between Stack and the terrorists on 9/11 that I see was that this guy today acted alone. Somewhere deep down inside, you get the impression that he admired what happened on 9/11 with those airplanes. The men who flew the airplanes on Sept. 11th, just like Stack, had a list of grievances as to why they did what they did.

    I haven't read Stack's suicide note in full, but it appears that they all had one thing in common - - they all hated the U.S. government.

  •  I don't agree (5+ / 0-)

    To put it simply, we often understand terrorism as political violence. Violence intended to send some sort of political message.

    No, that's too simplistic a definition. Let me try to explain what I see as the difference. Terrorism is a tactic in a larger battle.  It's an attack on noncombatants in an attempt to terrorize an enemy population---to make them afraid of similar attacks, and to make them behave in a way contrary to their interests out of that fear.

    So suicide bombers in Israel are terrorists, since everyone is afraid it will happen to them. Similarly the 9/11 bombers, since bin Laden was sending the message that we could expect more of the same. (And he's succeeded in those many cases where people of the USA are willing to give up their freedom out of fear of future attacks.)

    With this understanding, it's not clear that every angry individual on a killing rampage is a terrorist just because his reasons are "political", whatever that means. According to you, someone who goes postal in a mall and kills a dozen people is a terrorist if he leaves a note saying "I hate Obama" but not if he leaves a note saying "I can't handle my depression any longer".  You say

    If Joe Stack is not a terrorist, it follows that flying planes into crowded buildings is sometimes terrorism but sometimes not.

    By your definition, this is true: If the motivation wasn't political, it isn't terrorism.

    Of course there are grey areas, but I'd have to say that a person who goes postal all by himself, not part of a movement intended to terrorize a population, is not a terrorist regardless of his motivations or how heinous his actions.

    I look forward to posts pointing out flaws in my argument.

    •  While I agree that "political violence" is a very (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FuddGate

      simplified definition, I was really trying to get to the point of things.  After all, there are whole books written on the distinction between terrorism and political violence.  

      There are a couple arguments in response.  

      (1) Stack was attempting to use violence as a means of shocking/scaring others into considering or adopting his beliefs.

      (2) Stack viewed himself as a martyr whose cause would be taken up by others after his death.  

      To me, that falls within the definition of terrorism.  To distinguish between Stack's attack based on hatred of the government...  and the Christmas Day attack based on.. hatred of America.. etc...  seems like a fairly tenuous distinction.

      Faith in oneself is not trusting that you will always be victorious. It is trusting that you will either die or get back up.

      by Justashotaway on Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 08:13:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A mentally disturbed man flies plane into (0+ / 0-)

    building because voices in his head tell him to, is a very different thing than Kamikaze pilots in a military during war time.  Even if the effect is the same, the meaning of the act is entirely different in each case.  Kamikaze solder, Terrorist, and Criminally insane murder suicide, are all different things, and all should be treated differently.  Can they respond to negotiation (A solder acting under orders could be stopped with negotiation)? Is there a leadership? Can the problem be solved with violence?  Can the problem be solved with psychological evaluation and treatment?

    The solution to this problem seams relatively simple, pass a law banning homicidal suicidal lunatics from flying planes in US airspace, and shoot down planes flown by suicidal homicidal lunitics.

    Then again, the line between "My God told me to kill you", "Voices in my head told me to do it", and "Fuck everybody" is pretty thin.  Call him a terrorist.  Call him a terrorist formed by Glenn Beck's rhetoric.  Arrest Glenn Beck for promoting terrorism.

    "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

    by Futuristic Dreamer on Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 08:33:21 PM PST

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