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Anti-Government Terrorism? - Austin Tx Suicide Plane Crash

There is a long litany of names, some more well known than others, that are connected to our recent history of domestic or international terrorism. Since yesterday morning's shock of seeing a single engine Piper Cherokee crash into the side of Echelon I building in Austin Texas there have ensued debates of whether or not Joe Stack was a terrorist because he flew his plane into a building where the IRS had offices and that he clearly had anti-government sentiments.

I spent a good portion of the morning transfixed watching a live feed from the scene as the black smoke rose and the commentary soon built a story of a man who had earlier torched his home (with his wife and daughter still inside), to his "manifesto" railing on his personal problems with the IRS and bad CPAs, to his final act of flying his plane into the side of the building. Clearly, this was no accident. Stack's suicide act was purposeful and premeditated. One point noted during the day was that the Echelon complex, and Building One that was hit is not actually a federal building, although it does house federal employees of the IRS and the FBI (in a different building).

The general consensus now was that he acted against the government and that by the literal definition of terrorism (from the FBI), Stack acted as a domestic terrorist.

"Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives."

Yes, Stack used his plane as a weapon. I'm not so certain that he had an agenda other than his personal gripe with the IRS. I also doubt if he acted as part of a group, even though it was reported that a white supremacist group did refer to him as a "White American Patriot." Does that make him a "lone wolf" terrorist? There have also been parallels drawn between the suicide by plane yesterday in Austin with the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 (NOTE that the prompt actions of Emergency Responders, police and fire in Austin, and local citizens, clearly minimized what could have been a major loss of lives. One person, an IRS employee died in the crash and two people were injured. Had Stack struck the actual IRS facility at a different location, the numbers could have been frightening.).

This piece would not be being written or posted here were it not for a comment that I saw this morning that his "manifesto" somehow justified his actions (while the reasons are unclear, it has been removed from his web site).

One highly opinionated local radio commentator ranted on and on that Stack and bin Laden were no different. My personal opinion is that that "equivalency characterization" of Joe Stack blurs the line and makes it harder for the general population to understand just what it is that we are fighting when we talk about the Global War on Terrorism (or is it the Global War on Violent Extremists, or the Overseas Contingency Operation).

In a series of postings on Twitter yesterday, many people wondered about the distinction. This brief exchange occurred between myself ("JF") and noted terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross ("DGR" and who among his many other distinctions, is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Threats Awareness).

JF to DRG: RT @DaveedGR Headline on white separatist hub http://podblanc.com/: "Joseph A.Stack - White American Patriot" ~~~ Opportunistic anti-govt

JF to DRG: Literally Stack was a lone terrorist who used his plane as a weapon vs the IRS - But its more like OKCity than Ft. Hood.

DGR to JF: Maybe OKCity is an analogue in motivations, but not operationally. There, best analogue is Charles Bishop http://bit.ly/bOvi1z

JF to DRG: I'd forgotten about Bishop. Now remember when it happened many thought it another Sept. 11th attack (Bishop supported bin Laden).

JF to DRG: I was referring to motives. But you are of course correct. I'm still not sure I'd agree his was an act of terrorism vs desperation

DGR to JF: It can be both terrorism and desperation. Often terrorism is. His suicide note makes clear this was a political act.

Over the last few decades, the United States has experienced multiple terrorist incidents (some will be inadvertently missed). There was Unabomber Ted Kaczinski's manifesto. Kaczinski clearly had a longstanding anti-government and anti-business agenda. Stack was a pissed off, disenchanted software engineer who lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. Then, of course, you have the series of anti-government, anti-abortionist, Christian identity terrorists like Eric Rudolph. Joe Stack was no Eric Rudolph in actions or motives. There was the 1995 attack by Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and today, some people are drawing parallels to Stack's flight into the Echelon Building because of the connection to the IRS. Maybe, luckily for us all, Stack wasn't anywhere near as successful at his deadly attack as McVeigh and Nichols. Another parallel is Charles Bishop the fifteen year old admirer of Osama bin Laden who flew a plane into an office building in Tampa in January of 2002. And most recently, there was the murderous rampage of Nidal Malik Hasan who killed 13 and wounded more than 30 others at Ft. Hood in November.

All of these are considered acts of terrorism. Yes, there are parallels between what Joe Stark did yesterday in his attack on the IRS Audit Center in Austin and with Oklahoma City and even, if the comparison relies on an airplane flying into a building, September 11th.

Personally, and recognizing that people more wise than I may disagree, I think that calling Joe Stark a terrorist glorifies what he did. Was yesterday a justified act by a desperate man? To that, I say a definitive no! Was it an act of terrorism? By the literal definition, yes it was. But in reality, I believe that Stark was an angry man who had a tax problem and who owned a private airplane.

1 Comment

I don't think Stack was a terrorist. He was simply a selfish, unstable human who tried to evade his taxes for decades. He never gave one thought to how his actions would effect others: not his act of crashing a plane into a public building that most certainly had people other than IRS employees in it; and not his evasion of his rightful taxes that support this country.

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