Opinion: Manifesto of a ... terrorist?


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Was Joseph Andrew Stack, who is presumed dead after flying a small plane into an Austin, Texas, office building today that housed Internal Revenue Service workers, a terrorist?

Stack, who left behind a Web manifesto expressing his rage at the IRS, government officials, insurance industry executives and a host of other villains, chose a final act that was undoubtedly calculated for maximum shock value: Flying a plane into a government building, in the aftermath of 9/11, is a pretty unmistakable symbolic statement. But what was he trying to say?


Webster’s defines terrorism as ‘the act of terrorizing; use of force or threats to demoralize, intimidate and subjugate, esp. such use as a political weapon or policy.’ A simpler definition is the use of violence to advance a political cause. Stack, one could argue, wasn’t a terrorist, because his cause appears to have been personal rather than political. His Web rant never fully explains his beef with the IRS, but it’s clear that he was a very angry man who felt he had been screwed by the powers that be and aimed to retaliate.

Yet it’s also striking how much his rhetoric resembles that of a very powerful political movement in the United States: the ‘tea party’ crew. He portrays himself as a hardworking engineer beaten down by an overreaching government ‘full of hypocrites from top to bottom.’ He’s mad at the government’s failure to follow the principles of the Founding Fathers, at the federal stimulus that bailed out rich bankers but not the likes of him, and at the failure of politicians to represent his views. The one discordant note from what otherwise sounds like a symphony of Palinism is his complaint about the healthcare system; unlike movement conservatives, he appears to be angry about the failure of reform.

But to the question of whether this can be considered a terrorist manifesto, these passages seem particularly relevant:

‘I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I’ve had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change... I can only hope that the numbers get too big to be whitewashed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less.’

Can anybody doubt, on reading these words, that Stack intended to use violence to advance a political cause, or that he hoped to inspire others by example?

-- Dan Turner