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.