Last Thursday Joe Stack set fire to his home and crashed his private plane full speed into an IRS building in Austin Texas. In the process he killed himself and IRS employee Vernon Hunter. Further, he published a frighteningly poignant political rant on his software company’s website which explained the grievances which lead him to these actions.
For a few days now I’ve been ruminating about my response. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, starting with the futility of Federal officials scrambling two F16 Fighter jets after the fact.
The initial controversy seems to be whether or not to consider Joe a “terrorist.” This exposes the American people’s unwillingness to apply a moral principle to themselves consistent with those they apply to others. Consistency is the key to moral clarity. This was a terrorist act by every official definition, but it doesn’t fit the unofficial definition of “A Muslim who acts or speaks in opposition to the American Israeli war machine.” Still, this is only a semantic discussion, which has already been more than adequately addressed by Glenn Greenwald. I prefer to strike the root.
The more disturbing trend is the eagerness with which partisan people strive to conflate Joe’s outrage with their political rivals. Those on the left paint him as a “tea-bagger”, sighting his constitutional rhetoric, and his resistance to taxes. Those on the right paint him as a “socialist”, sighting his critique of capitalism, and his anger toward organized religion. Joe’s “manifesto” contains the markings of both sides of the political spectrum, and therefore neither.
For most of us Joe Stack was not our political rival. He was part of the huge unrepresented mass of non partisan independents that comprises the vast majority of Americans. In short, he was not one of “them” he was one of “us.” That disenfranchised, disillusioned mob, that is waking up from the sleep of indoctrination and is slowly realizing the truth, that We The People are not at the helm of this ship.
I will say of him the same thing I have thought of everyone who has the unfortunate distinction of being labeled “terrorist.” I disagree with his tactics. I wish he hadn’t done what he did. But I will not be so quick to disregard the sources of his frustration. I still believe that the best way to prevent acts of terrorism in the future is to fully empathize (not sympathize) with the motivation of those who committed acts of terrorism in the past. So, every tragedy is an opportunity, a fork in the road between healing our world, and deepening the wound.
Joe Stack was a human being, spoon fed promises of freedom and opportunity since childhood, as we all were. His dream of achieving economic independence by running a successful software company were dashed by an onerous and oppressive tax system which he correctly identifies as, “too complicated for the brightest of the master scholars to understand. Yet, it mercilessly ‘holds accountable’ its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand.” Believing those promises of freedom, he imagined that he lived in a representative system that could be changed through citizen action. He describes experience, “I spent close to $5000 of my ‘pocket change’, and at least 1000 hours of my time writing, printing, and mailing to any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen; none did, and they universally treated me as if I was wasting their time.”
Joe Stack needed what all those who resort to political violence need, a realistic and effective means to peacefully petition for redress of his grievances. Indeed, this simple courtesy would likely defuse any and every potential terrorist attack. Because for every individual who resorts to political violence, there are a hundred peaceful people with identical grievances disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable.
My greatest fear is that Joe was correct when he wrote that he expects the response to his actions to be, “the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions.” This is perhaps the worst possible response because at best it only punishes the victims of terrorism twice, and at worst it inadvertently produces more terrorists. But considering current White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel’s statement, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” that is what I expect to see. But I pray that we see different.
For more info:
Terrorism: the most meaningless and manipulated word ~Glenn Greenwald
Joe Stack’s Last Rant ~Joe Stack
Fort Hood: remember remember the 5th of November ~ Davi Barker
Joe Stack and the IRS – The Impact of Error ~Stefan Molyneux