Austin IRS attacker: “hero” or terrorist?

Before flying his single-engine Piper PA-28 into the IRS headquarters in Austin, killing one (excluding himself) and wounding several the morning of Feb. 19, Joe Stack evidently posted a screed on the Internet railing against “big brother,” the Catholic Church, the “unthinkable atrocities” committed by big business, and the government bailouts. He took particular aim at the IRS, telling them to “take my pound of flesh and sleep well.” He said that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” He signed off “Joe Stack (1956-2010)” (CBS, Feb. 19) So this was, by any definition, an act of terrorism—a politically motivated deadly surprise attack on a civilian target. And yet…

Some of the very same people who went all jingoistic after 9-11 are now hailing Stack as a hero. From ABC News:

“Extremist groups are already aligning behind [Joe Stack], beginning to talk about him as a hero,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center which studies American militia and hate groups. “The growth of those groups has been astounding.”

Stack’s suicide note, an angry rant against the IRS and the government which was posted online the morning of his death, got around 20 million hits before it was taken down at the request of the FBI, according to Alex Melen, president and founder of T35, the network service provider for the Web site where the note was posted.

Melen, 25, said within minutes of taking the note down, the company was “bombarded” with around 3,000 e-mails demanding Stack’s words be reposted. Some of the e-mails contained personal threats against Melen.

“What’s funny is most people were pretty much praising him,” Melen told ABC News.

More from New York’s Daily News:

The fires in Austin were still burning yesterday when the Internet lit up with government haters cheering suicide pilot Joe Stack and calling him a hero.

“Finally an American man took a stand against our tyrannical government that no longer follows the Constitution,” wrote Emily Walters of Louisville, Ky.

Walters was one of at least two dozen people who founded Facebook fan groups to hail the homicidal pilot.

Most had only a tiny handful of members, but hers attracted more than 200 before Facebook removed it.

“His sacrifice was for all of us,” wrote Texan Tyler Britten.

Crackpots were also praising the dead pilot on Twitter.

“Joe Stack, you are a true American Hero and we need more of you to make a stand,” tweeted Greg Lenihan, an engineer in San Diego.

Some Texas politicians are not equivocating on the reality that this was terrorism—while the Teabaggers go ga-ga. From Washington Post:

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) compared the fatal attack to the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. “This was a cowardly act of domestic terrorism,” he said Thursday. Asked in Austin if the plane crash had been an act of terrorism, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said, “It sounds like it to me.”

Praise for Stack appeared to be largely anonymous, but because it appeared online so rapidly it quickly threaded itself into his Google cache — popping up on right- and left-wing sites that tried to bat it down, as well as white-supremacist ones that did not take such pains.

“God bless Joe Stack an american hero” a person writing as “summit02,” posted on the blog of Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella group for the conservative movement. “Thank you Joe for your heroism in the fight aganist the evil elites. that are destroying america,” the person wrote. [Sic]

Muslim advocacy groups are calling out those who equivocate on the t-word for their double standard. From The Hill:

A leading Muslim advocacy group is pushing government officials to call the suicide plane crash in Texas “an act of terror,” saying that if a Muslim had been flying the plane there would be no hesitancy to call it terrorism….

“Whenever an individual or group attacks civilians in order to make a political statement, that is an act of terror,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of the faith, race or ethnicity of the perpetrator or the victims,” said Awad, adding in a statement that “if a Muslim had carried out the IRS attack, it would have surely been labeled an act of terrorism.”

In the hours after the crash, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters that the incident looked to be “a criminal act by a lone individual.” And while Acevedo refrained from calling it an act of terror, he said the FBI, which is heading the investigation, would make the judgment call on how to categorize the crash.

As we pointed out during the Bill Ayers flap during the 2008 presidential campaign:

The double standard about terrorism is pretty deeply ingrained in this country, even after Oklahoma City. Islamist or left-wing armed militancy is seen as an existential threat and ultra-toxic contagion (and is always labeled with the T-word)—while that of the radical right is seen as just good ol’ boys having fun (or even as a defense of freedom against Big Government).

Can you imagine if the Austin attack had been perpetrated by a Yusuf al-Sulami instead of a Joe Stack, and if the suicide note had invoked jihadist instead of redneck tax-resister rhetoric (you wouldn’t even have to change the wording that much)? Instead of equivocation there would be consensus across the political spectrum that this was the new terrorist attack that the Homeland Security Department is always telling us is “inevitable” and a “question of when not if.”

If the word has any meaning at all, this was act of terrorism—and it came not from Islamists but America’s homegrown ultra-right.

See our last posts on the resurgent radical right, at home and abroad

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.

    1. irs attack


  1. Socialists speak on Austin attack
    From the Socialist Party USA:

    Socialist Statement on the Terrorist Act in Austin
    As democratic socialists, we condemn the act of terrorism carried out by Joseph Andrew Stack today in Austin, Texas. Terrorism will do nothing to solve the mounting social and economic problems faced by working people in the United States. Instead, such acts will likely create public sympathy for government agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security, who wish to further erode our civil liberties. As an old anarchist pamphlet correctly states, “Terrorism destroys politics.”

    While condemning this act, we also recognize that some of the grievances raised in Stack’s suicide letter speak to real problems faced by millions of working people every day. In the more coherent sections of the letter, he mentions the failure of the US government to provide healthcare, the gross inequity of the bank bailout and the inadequacy of support for elderly Americans. He details the plight of the elderly widow of a steel worker who is reduced to eating cat food because of the elimination of pension payments. It is difficult not to be moved to anger by this story.

    Similar stories of abuse and neglect exist throughout the US today. This is not a surprise considering we live in a society where 5% of the population controls 85% of the wealth. Consequently, one child out of every six faces issues of food insecurity and almost 50 million people have been left outside the healthcare system. All of these conditions are direct results of capitalism.

    Democratic socialism, and not individual terrorism, is the humane alternative to the madness of capitalism. Socialist economics propose worker self-management, participatory budgeting and guaranteed rights to healthcare and housing. Such changes are built upon socialist values of solidarity, compassion and justice.

    Acts of terrorism will not move us closer to solving our problems – a grassroots political response to injustice will. What we need most in this country is a political movement that gives a voice to working people. Such a re-awakening will allow us to become active creators of a more progressive future. Organizations, such as the one we are members of, the Socialist Party USA, are working to build such movements and are open to all those seeking to struggle for justice.

  2. What he said
    Excerpts from Joe Stack’s statement, online at, Feb. 18:

    If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time… Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies… The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government.

  3. Another IRS attack?
    From BioPerpWatch, March 2:

    A hazmat crew was dispatched to a Farr West, Utah Internal Revenue Service building this morning following the detection of an unknown substance.

    The IRS’s Farr West facility is used to process businesses’ paper tax returns, housing approximately 830 employees during its busiest times.

    Two workers in the building were taken to an Ogden, Utah hospital following the discovery of the substance in the office building, but their medical emergencies are not believed to be related to the substance.

    “The area where the threat was received was isolated by removing employees from that area,” Debbie Dujanovic Betram, an FBI public affairs specialist, said in a statement, which noted that some individuals “did suffer medical emergencies which, at this time, do not appear to be related to this incident.”

    The FBI has begun an investigation into the substance, saying that its investigation is ongoing with federal and local partners.

    Funny that this should come just after the FBI closed its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks.