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Feb. 18 2010 - 5:42 pm | 3,901 views | 3 recommendations | 34 comments

Domestic terrorism strikes, deep in the heart of Texas

At 10 a.m. on this beautiful Thursday morning in Austin, Texas, I was walking to my mailbox when the sound of distant thunder perked my right eyebrow.

I had no idea that not ten minutes away by vehicle, one man’s rage against the machine had birthed a glowing fireball of vengeance which darted from the sky and slammed directly into a nondescript office building that I pass nearly every day.

Joe  Stack, a 53-year-old software engineer and accordion player for the Billy Eli Band, had made his mark.


Photo by Stephen C. Webster

Earlier that morning, Stack allegedly burned down his home in North Austin, apparently resigned to the cold, rational atrocity he’d selected to end his life. The IRS had it coming, in his mind, and the noble will fight for their freedom. Or so he explained in a letter posted to the Internet (originally here).

“So, some crazy guy who was about to lose his shit to the IRS flipped out, burned his home and crashed a plane into a building basically down the street from me,” I texted a friend before making my way to the scene. “I heard the explosion.”

“Holy shit, can’t wait to see the headlines,” he said. “‘Crazy right wing extremist crashes plane in protest of IRS, full body rape centers to be deployed nation wide.’”

I laughed and joked that it sounded like an Onion headline, one of those little bits of satire you can only laugh at because it’s so painfully true.

It was there, sitting on a grassy knoll across the highway from the towering inferno, that I read Joe’s letter.

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have 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 as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing, at and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.

He clearly saw his actions as patriotic, and his logic is frighteningly consistent. His tirade is littered with stabs at big government and taxation, though he does not appear to be a partisan or even necessarily right-wing.


Photo by Stephen C. Webster

Startling to me perhaps most of all, as I sat looking up at the burning obelisk left in Stack’s wake, was that he had called out exactly the same thing my friend did: “more stupid draconian restrictions.”

Within an hour of the letter’s discovery and hyper-promotion across mainstream media, fan pages sprung up on Facebook.

The pervasive smell of burnt office and rubber hung in the air like hatred, billowing heavy on the breeze, carried right into my face. I walked back to my car.

On the radio, a DJ was taking calls from Austinites, asking their thoughts on the whole flaming wad of insanity. One girl said she agrees with what Stack wrote, though all the successive callers took time to insult her with a variation of the word “douche”.

During the commercial break, an annoying voice asked me if I was having problems with Uncle Sam, who  seems to tax everything these days. “Tax, tax, tax!” he belted. But now, for a limited time only, you can take advantage of a special offer to get some of your money back in your pocket, where it belongs! Isn’t that great? Uncle Sam’s got your back! — a rough approximation, but it went something like that.

It struck me that an advertisement like that, to a man like Joe Stack, must have lit a pyre in his frontal lobe.

“I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different,” his letter reads. “I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

This is going to dominate the political discussion in America for at least a couple weeks. Mr. Stack has set the agenda, his act of deplorable violence like a flashing, burning, 3D billboard — an advertisement for his death column.

The mainstream press was quite happy to quote his words like they were quoting scripture. Their justification: constantly refer to him as crazy, a maniac, completely insane, detached from reality. All of which is true, to a degree.


Old media, at the scene of the crime. Photo by Stephen C. Webster

But here’s something I think few will be saying in the coming months: he’s right on many levels. Go, read the letter. It’s a bit long, and something I feel a bit dubious for promoting, but it deserves to be digested from beginning to end, not in sound-bytes framed by a talking head. Read it.

Were it not for his shocking conclusion this morning, Stack’s diatribe would have gone largely unnoticed; just another one of those tragic American tales that a few hundred people read online and nod in agreement, only to return to their comforting apathy and pictures of lolcats.

Two people were injured. One person was unaccounted for at time of this writing. Update: Stack killed one person other than himself and wounded 15.

We can all thank our favorite deities there were not hundreds of casualties. That’s a big office building.

Make no mistake, Joe Stack is a terrorist. He has struck terror into the heart of our government, and it will react with a swift ferocity. Expect his prediction to come true: “more stupid draconian restrictions.”

But here’s what the media won’t be able to tackle without disrupting their preconceived narrative: Joe Stack was also a populist, self-fashioned in the vein of America’s first terrorist John Smith, who murdered and terrorized slavery supporters and helped lead a violent uprising in 1823. Today, Smith is known as a martyr.

Stack will not be so fortunate …

Although, there are likely some on Wall Street singing his praises right now, thanks to the nice little bounce they saw after news of Stack’s flaming shit took over all major channels. The same thing happened after the Christmas Day bomb plot was foiled — all the big players in the security industrial complex got a windfall that continues to this day.

In the weeks to follow, as the political discussion runs thick with the blood of IRS agents and the looming threat of lone wolf domestic terrorists, we’ll be told to mistrust our countrymen, report suspicious activity and say our prayers at night. Greater emphasis will be placed on monitoring social media for signs of an impending threat. Many in the public sphere will pinch their tongues on the issue for fear of being portrayed as sympathetic to a terrorist’s rants.

Stack will get exactly what he wanted and the rest of us will be pushed and prodded to go along with it. It’s for your own safety, they’ll say, and keep an eye out for anti-social behavior.

In reality, now is a time for greater engagement with our fellow Americans, not greater suspicion.

The more we can reach across deeply carved political lines and show our friends and neighbors that hope is not lost; that things are bad but we’re all in the same sinking boat; that the underpinnings of our freedom is not where we can shop or how far we can drive in an SUV, but it is our ability to come together and put aside minor prejudices to solve a greater civic problem that makes us truly free indeed.

If only Stack knew such countrymen, perhaps his violent demise could have been averted.

Updated from an original version.


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8 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 34 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    I agree with your observation of Stack’s manifesto as neither left or right. He appeared exhausted with debt and a broken heart for what he thought America should be. His final words are the most jarring:

    The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

    The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

    Yea. RIP Joe.

  2. collapse expand

    I live literally up the street from where this happened. It is hard to believe in a city as laid back as Austin that someone could get to the point of committing suicide as a kamakaze pilot bomber. I agree that there is no way from reading his website rant that you could infer that he was either right or left leaning. You could very easily infer that he was one of the many across the country that is just plain fed up.

  3. collapse expand

    Well Stephen, you hit that nail right on the head. Keep the good reporting coming! I hope our “guardian angels” in Washington are watching this unfold. Stop sending our hard earned tax dollars overseas and spend it on our citizens!

  4. collapse expand

    Mr. Webster,

    You are correct that Mr. Stack is a terrorist but you are incorrect in that he is clearly a right-wing terrorist. His obsession with taxes is clearly echoing every one from Mr. Limbaugh to the Tea Party. Ironically, tax rates are the lowest that they have been in two generations. Obviously Mr. Stack had personal issues that went beyond politics but his manifesto was very clearly right-wing.

  5. collapse expand

    Someone else bought his URL and reposted his ‘manifesto’ on it; after I’d learned of his url (embeddedart.com) I visited it only to find it had been taken down by his service provider, then when I forgot I already had it open in one tab I visited it again and found it was up again.

  6. collapse expand

    I’m from Austin, and an independent contractor turned bootstrapped entrepreneur who got the hell out of the US in 1999, just before the zombies Joe Stark referred to gave the keys to the White House and the Pentagon to a certain Texan.

    I opened a business here in Brazil a few years ago, but new IRS regulations made ownership of my Brazilian business entity too costly for me. It seems I cannot simultaneously exist as an entrepreneur, a US citizen, and a Brazilian business owner because the US tax filing process is now too complex and costly for little people. (Hmmm… Goldman Sachs has a posh office just a few blocks away. Seems doable for them… what’s wrong with this picture?)

    So, on my CPA’s advice, I shut it down before it made a cent; it was DOA because of the greedy Americans who actually are guilty of evading taxes through the ownership and use of foreign business entities.

    I was advised that I could open up a business in the US, and then open a branch of it here in Brazil, but that’s also too expensive and complicated. In addition, some of the zombies — in Georgtown TX, no less — have passed a death sentence on me. One of those judges who passed the sentence is an ex F-15 pilot / USAF Lt. Col Ret. I don’t expect to get any American justice when a “war hero” is in the opposite camp. So, f*k that noise.

    But I am extremely fortunate. I have friends and relatives in Shanghai and Beijing, and am taking the first steps towards building business connections there as I learn Chinese and develop my software product. And coincidentally, self-destructive Americans have been electing to outsource their economy to China for some decades now — since I came of voting age, in 1980.

    Because the “land of opportunity” has moved east, via the democratic process, so will I. I just have to pick precisely the right time to ditch my US citizenship — for political, not tax reasons, mind you. I can brush off the predictable IRS charges that I’m trying to avoid taxes because: (a) I have no money, and (b) I can prove that an American terrorist — and supporters or terrorism — in Texas, have made explicit plans to murder me. (They should not have done that. If they had not, I would not be making references to them in these internet post-its.)

    I feel lucky. I am lucky. But it helps to pay attention to what matters; it helped me know when it was time to move, and it still does.

  7. collapse expand

    Working in downtown NYC, I’ve also sampled the burning stench of hatred in the air (your simile was very moving). I hope the story develops a focus on the violence, his decision to become a suicide bomber for the cause rather than the content. Regardless of his political past, our civil discourse has been so poisoned by violent rhetoric that this is not surprising. CPAC has been invoking violence and civil war imagery. Also, a couple of days ago I wrote here, “I don’t think Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck understand the flames they fan, how much violence they are unwittingly encouraging.” ( http://trueslant.com/toddessig/2010/02/16/dylan-as-the-prophet-of-palin/)

    Let’s hope this is not the start of a trend.

  8. collapse expand

    You cut down the news for giving this guy his 15 minutes of fame, only to post the letter yourself, pervertedly vindicating the whole thing. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with what he’s saying, what matters is that this man flew a plane into a building so he could become a martyr to his own message. Shameful that we’re now obsessed with reading what this guy has to say. His letter deserves no ear.

  9. collapse expand

    The Kind of England probably considered the Founders terrorists, too.

    This guy had the courage to do what every single person who’s ever worked for a paycheck has secretly or not-so-secretly wanted to do for as long as they’ve been alive.

    I say he’s a hero, not a terrorist.

  10. collapse expand

    The reaction to this is what I hate more than anything. When Osama Bin Laden took his actions on 9/11, he was not wrong. Clearly, his actions were wrong. His choice of process was evil and unforgivable. However, the logic of his views of the world’s current geopolitical climate were consistant, and at least arguably (if not admittidly) correct.

    Here we have a guy whose choice of process was evil and unforgivable. However, the logic of his views on the american tax climate were consistant, and perhaps arguably true.

    Why do we all know that bin laden was wrong, and yet so many feel this jackass is some sort of a hero? Is it because we have all been taxed by the IRS, yet we have never lived in a palestinian slum? Is it because we have filed our taxes, but not felt the military’s bombs?

    They are both wrong. But as an american citizen, the guy in Texas was in a far better position to effectuate change than some foreign arab dude. Both he and bin laden flew planes into buildings for coherent, perhaps even sympathetic, political reasons. They both hurt innocent people. They both deserve to die. Apparently, the texas guy met his fate today, hopefully bin laden will soon. Anyone that calls either man a hero or a martyr has some serious soul searching to do. They are both little more than common thugs.

  11. collapse expand

    Interesting comments. From them, one could conclude that long-ago statements by Jefferson of the necessity of watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants reference a “concept” instead of a deadly reality.

    It does not.

    As a 54 year old American myself, with the insane and extremist changes I have witnessed since Reagan took office, I can relate quite closely to this man, whom I feel is not only NOT a “terrorist”, but is in fact a man of his times, ahead of his time in fact, thinking thoughts many of us have and do.

    If this makes ONE person rethink working for the Federal Reserve Collection Agency, aka the IRS, think twice, then he did well.

    Using harsh words and blogging isn’t going to dislodge the well-entrenched PTB from Wall Street to Langley, to the Pentagon to D.C. They are increasingly confidant and abusive. This must end, and it won’t be pretty.

    Take a gander at the photo of what ONE MAN can do to the Establishment, and TAKE HEART.

    This ain’t no disco, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no foolin’ around…..

  12. collapse expand

    Why do people go crazy on our Government. I am a government worker. All of us are just trying to feed our families, live our lives in peace. Why do the anti-government crazies attach us and not the originators of the laws, why not the people that supply lobbyist with money.

    You think security will be bad at the airports, you have no idea what they will make us government workers go through.

    I also have to wonder why the IRS was pursing him? I know I have been audited and because I pay my taxes, the result from the audit was good!

    • collapse expand

      Because you’re all parasites.

      You, as a class of people, contribute nothing meaningful to American society. You suck money and means from the productive segments of society and use it to oppress us.

      Whether you’re a lowly file clerk or a roid-raging cop with an overactive Taser trigger-finger, or an uppity IRS agent looking for someone to ruin, or a BATFE agent creating 20-year felonies out of type-o’s on filed forms, you’re still just a cog in the machine.

      Say what you want about Joe Stack. Whether he was right or wrong doesn’t really matter. The lesson to take back to your tax-feeding buddies around the water cooler is this: People will only take so much abuse.

      Whether you think it’s justified or not, plenty of people in this country are damned angry at the way our country is being run. People are angry at lobbyists with money, sure. But, lobbyists with money were hired to perform a specific function – to represent their employers’ interests. Senators, Representatives, even the President himself, were also hired to perform a specific function – to serve the will of The People.

      We The People are being ignored by our so-called representatives, and being thrown aside like so much garbage while politicians and corporate kiss-asses rake in the dough.

      Not a lot of people can be bothered with such things these days, after all, there’s a football game on TV, and a new episode of Dancing With the Stars, and have you seen that new video on YouTube of the funny kitten?

      Ask yourself, and your fellow tax-fattened leeches this question: What happens when the power goes out? What happens when a good chunk of America can no longer afford to heat their homes? What happens when we finally cross the line?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  13. collapse expand

    There are two elements to this sad tale. First is the violence itself. It was wrong. Dead wrong.

    Second is that a person who had been trying to build his own business felt he had been wronged and that he had no redress. That too is wrong, but on a very different scale.

    It may well be that we have paid more taxes in the past. However, we may have also have felt that we got more for our money. That’s what makes this event so sad.

    We have the ability these days to look much more closely at what our government is doing, and the evidence is that spending is ridiculously out of control, we aren’t sure where the money is going, high-flying financiers who got us in to a huge mess are still making ridiculous money, and our government wants to extend more benefits to the public in what looks like nothing more than a feeble attempt to buy votes.

    Meanwhile, the people who want to make a living are getting squeezed.

    Yeah, I understand his frustration and anger. I don’t condone his actions in any way. But you have to ask what effective alternatives did he have?

  14. collapse expand

    WTF? “Here’s a screen capture of another Billy Eli Band music video called “The World Wasn’t Built for People With Autism.”

  15. collapse expand

    i say this is ALLLL FREAKING RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!!!!just like ALLL this “PROFILING” !!!!!
    I AM A citizen who wants to be treated like a human being…..I AM A HUMANITARIAN & WANT MY COUNTRY BACK !!!!MY CONSTITUTION RESPECTED…..thats what ya can call me AND JOE STACK!?

  16. collapse expand


  17. collapse expand

    AND HE CRACKED!…..WHAT ABOUT WHAT ALL THE FED REGULATIONS, LOSS OF INDUSTRY, WHAT ABOUT different rules for the IRS than citizens crap that got us ALL HERE TODAY?
    “THEY” (the FEDERAL gov, the POWERS THAT BE!) are constantly qucking with us AND GET AWAY WITH IT!
    have ruined our industry, our incomes, OUR COUNTRY, OUR LIVES! WHAT ABOUT THAT?… See More
    i’ll sing these truths UNTIL the cows come home or THEY ARREST ME for expressing MY OPINION, THE FACTS, at least I’VE KNOWN & TOLD THE TRUTH!

  18. collapse expand

    I would never condone the taking of innocent lives just to make a point. That truly is the definition of terrorism. The only thing that really suprises me is that vendettas against the IRS are not more common. The IRS is the gestapo of the federal government. When it comes to collecting taxes the IRS is not bound by constitutional law. Simple suspicion of tax fraud can cause you to have your bank accounts frozen leaving you and your family out in the cold. Tax attorneys will tell you the IRS operates on a guilty until proven innocent basis knowing that your only option is a quick settlement because they have you by the short hairs. Those who choose to fight in court usually win but only those that have the resourses and time can fight a long battle in court. Having said all that I believe it is my patriotic duty to pay taxes. A small price to pay for the freedoms we as a country enjoy, as long as our government does not abuse our tax dollars. In summary I certainly hope that all those directly affected by this “psycho” will soon recover both physically and mentally. On a personal note I hope this will not in any way delay my tax refund. (Just kidding!)

  19. collapse expand

    But you have to ask what effective alternatives did he have?

    How about selling the plane and paying the back taxes?

  20. collapse expand

    On the whole, I find your article your article refreshingly rational. But I disagree that this man is definitely a terrorist. Low casualty rate, unlinked to any organization or concrete plan? More like desperate shot in the dark. Who is experiencing terror due to this incident? You cite the government, but then mention how these events can be turned into windfalls. I feel as though we’ve become pretty adept a co-opting these events.

    I simply find this word too easily applied these days. Though your usage will be far less egregious than those on, say, FOX, I still think this is a misnomer. The journalist I want to read is the one that took a good chunk of time and devoted it to ferreting out some new, more appropriate, more nuanced word for this moment.

  21. collapse expand

    Observing mainstream press on Friday is like living in a twilight zone.

    You mean to say that yesterday, a crazed accordion player slammed his airplane into a federal office building, leaving a revolutionary screed on the Internet for all to see and discuss, yet today the media just wants to talk about Tiger Woods?


  22. collapse expand

    This terrorist attack in Austin Texas was prophesied in the May 15th Prophecy and is of no surprise to those who have read it

    Google search the May 15th Prophecy and you will see for yourself what is about to happen next

    With 100% accuracy!!

  23. collapse expand

    This terrorist attack that happen in Austin Texas was prophesied exactly in the May 15th Prophecy and is of no surprise to those who have read

    All you have to do is Google search the May 15th Prophecy and you will see for yourself

    And you will also see what is about to happen next with 100% accuracy

  24. collapse expand

    “If only Stack knew such countrymen, perhaps his violent demise could have been averted.”

    Well said, and the same can be said for school rampages. If students like Klebold and Harris (Columbine shootings) had know classmates that engaged them rather than ostracized them, maybe so many lives would not have been cut short.

    Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not blaming anyone for the Columbine shootings. Those boys knew what they were planning was wrong, and are responsible for their actions. I am not justifying anyone’s terrorist actions. There is a right way and a wrong way to confront an issue. But the fact remains that we live in a society that is increasingly self centered, and mistrustful of anything or anyone that is different.

    Someone once said that the only things humans truly fear are things unknown. Maybe if we engaged others in healthy and positive ways a little more, we would fear a little less.

  25. collapse expand

    Mr. Stack also set fire to his home–although I understand his wife and daughter were not in the home, what good does this do for them? Also, everyone loves to hate the IRS, but the IRS does not make tax law–Congress does and the President signs it–then the executive branch (IRS) tries to implement the law as best as it can with the resources and guidance that Congress allots. If you don’t like tax law, the IRS can’t change it. And as usual, it is much easier to collect from individuals, corporations have much more pull, lawyers to wiggle them through loopholes (or who create the loopholes for specific corporations in a quid pro quo). Because Congress and the executive have bought into the mantra that all must be evaluated and rewarded by observable measures (run everything like a corporation)–agents are rewarded for bringing in back taxes. Who would you rather go after, Goldman, et al or Joe Smith? Also, try reading the tax code–again created by Congress NOT the IRS. Take your congressperson to task (peaceably) not the IRS. If you believe we need the military to protect us, highways, and lots of other things, then we must pay taxes, but fair taxes. If corporations keep amassing power and congressional votes, the only people paying taxes will be those unlucky enough to live in the US and have a job flipping burgers (and subject to withholding)–again Congress is the problem, tell them and hold them accountable for the horrors of the tax code. None of them has the cojones to actually go for a flat tax.

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    About Me

    My name is Stephen. I am a News Junkie and an assistant editor at RawStory.com. My work has appeared in publications both printed and online, including The Dallas Business Journal, the cover of Fort Worth Weekly and in the pages of The Dallas Morning News, Austin Monthly, Envy Magazine and others. I also covered the rebirth of the U.S. peace movement first-hand for The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, starting with the city's first public screening of 'Fahrenheit 9/11' all the way through the end of Cindy Sheehan's stay. I've seen my reporting discussed in publications such as Time, Wired, Reason, The Washington Post, D Magazine, The Guardian UK, Media Matters, ThinkProgress, Alternet, Cannabis Culture, 1-UP, Destructoid, Kotaku, GameSpot, G4TV and many others. I am currently open for freelance assignments and actively seeking a literary agent. You can follow me on Twitter @StephenCWebster, or from Facebook.com/StephenCWebster.

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