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.”
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.