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Does Flying a Plane Into a Building Make You a Hero or a Terrorist?

Here’s a question I bet you thought didn’t need to be asked in a post-9/11 America: Does flying a plane into a building make you a terrorist or a hero?

Joe Stack attacked the IRS by flying his plane into one of its buildings. Is he a hero?

Some people think so. Stack’s adult daughter, Samantha Bell, said Monday that her father’s attack was “inappropriate” but that she considered him heroic because of his antigovernment views.

“Maybe now people will listen,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Stack is also becoming a hero to the radical right – specifically, white supremacists and their fellow travelers, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Supremacist web forums have been filled with comments that elevate Stack into an icon of resistance to tyranny, writes Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

Potok quotes one poster on, a large supremacist web site, as saying, “The Guy is a true HERO!!!”

Let’s break this down.


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Or Terrorist?

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Or Terrorist?



Or Terrorist?


Or Terrorist?


Or Terrorist?

What makes the difference?

Is it numbers? So, is that one man is a hero, but ten men are terrorists?

Are you a hero if you only have one immediate victim? (Though, in truth, there’s never just one victim — there’s family, friends, community, etc., to factor in.) Are you a terrorist if you have two immediate victims? Five? Ten? 20? 30? 100? 1,000? Are you a terrorist if you intended to have more victims?

Authorities investigating the crash have positively identified the remains of Vernon Hunter, 68, said family spokesman Larry McDonald. Hunter had been missing and presumed dead since Thursday, when software engineer Andrew Joseph Stack III slammed his plane into the building where Hunter worked as a manager for the IRS.

Hunter’s son Ken said he assumed the worst after not hearing from his father within an hour of the crash, which set fire to the black-glass building that houses offices where nearly 200 IRS employees work. Stack was the only other person to die in the crash, which also injured 13.

Stack, 53, apparently targeted the lower floors of the building, which houses offices where nearly 200 IRS employees work. He lashed out at the agency in a ranting manifesto posted on a Web site shortly before Thursday’s attack, claiming the government and the tax code robbed him of his savings and derailed his career.

Is it a question of who you are? Are you a hero if you have a name like Joe Stack? Are you a terrorist if you have a name like Abdul Muhammad?

Is it a question of religion? Are you a hero if you’re a Christian, but a terrorist if you a Muslim or anything other than Christian?

Does it depend on what you believe? Are you a terrorist if you believe that you’ll have several dozen virgins at your disposal once you get to heaven? Are you a hero if you believe that taxation is theft?

Are you a hero if you’re an angry white male? Are you a terrorist if you’re an angry non-white male or female? Is your anger more or less justified, depending on which you are?

If Stack had been an Arab or a Muslim, you can bet this story would still be getting blaring headlines and front page news coverage. As one of my Twitter friends wrote, “What, if you own your own plane you can’t be a terrorist?”

So which is it?


Or Terrorism?

Does it take “great bravery” to commit suicide in the course of taking other lives? Does it count as heroism if the intent is to make a political point? Is it terrorism if you commit an act of violence “in the pursuit of political aims?

Stack himself made his political aims as clear as his personal aims.

…In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws.

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.

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. 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.

“Maybe now people will listen,” Stack’s daughter said, before retracting her statement. Even members of Congress have, while being careful to condemn Stack’s actions, come close to expressing the same sentiment. “Maybe now people will listen.” After quickly describing Stacks attack as “sad,’ Rep. Steve King (R, IA) followed up his obligatory condemnation by essentially justifying the act if it accomplishes his goal of abolishing the IRS, and even encouraged members of the audience at a CPAC panel discussion on immigration to “implode” other IRS offices.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could “empathize” with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to “implode” other IRS offices, according to a witness.

During his closing remarks, King veered into a complaint about high taxes, and said he could “empathize” with the man who flew a plane into an IRS building last week.

During the question and answer session, the Media Matters staffer asked King to clarify his comment, reminding him of his sworn duty to protect the American people from all sworn enemies, foreign and domestic. In response, said the staffer, King gave a long and convoluted answer about having been personally audited by the IRS, and ended by saying he intended to hold a fundraiser to help people “implode” their local IRS office.

It’s unclear whether King would prefer people make sure their local IRS offices are empty before “imploding” them, but it’s clear that stack wanted to add more bodies to the count than his own, both in his long complaint now called a “manifesto” and his choice to strike in the morning when people would be arriving for work. Showing up for work, in his eyes, would be their crime; justifying his role as judge, jury and executioner.

It’s safe to assume he’d hoped to take more than one IRS employee with him. All in the name of personal grievances and political aims. That’s terrorism, straight up. And supporting it is supporting terrorism.

Sympathy with a bomber puts the lie to the extreme right’s claim to reject violence. Someone who carries out premeditated deadly force against civilians to make a political point is by virtually any definition a terrorist, not a hero. Stack remodeled his plane so as to pack it with extra fuel, left a manifesto, took the life of an innocent man.

That’s not to sweep under the carpet the rest of Stack’s complaint.

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. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.

In a reality where Wall Street bonuses were up 17% in 2009, while nearly 25% of mortgages are underwater, 80% of delinquent homeowners — nearly six million in all — will lose their homes, and some 2.7 million unemployed Americans may face years without jobs, the desperation expressed in Stack’s suicide note and his murderous and suicidal final act are very real for far, far too many Americans, and is likely to spread if nothing is done — which is what some politicians, like Sen. Tom “I Love Gridlock” Coburn, prefer.

We shouldn’t hesitate to call Stark’s actions terrorism or to label him the terrorist he became when he aimed his plane at Larry Hunter’s workplace, and began his descent past the point of no return. But terrorism, perhaps we can finally acknowledge, is not born in a vacuum. It’s born out of anger and frustration, some justified and some not. It is nourished by despair and hopelessness.

It’s born at the poorly lit intersection where personal choices and policy decisions collide, and despite plenty of witnesses, no one can determine who’s to blame, let alone entirely to blame. And while that’s getting sorted out, more and more Americans lie at that intersection, waiting for help. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

So, yes, Joe Stark chose not hero’s death, but that of a cowardly terrorist who justifies his actions as a means to his political goal, but lacks the courage to stick around to face or even witness the consequences of such.

But understand that more and more Americans are finding and will find themselves in similar dire straights, with an ever narrowing range of choices before them. Conservatives are apparently choosing to encourage more Joseph Starks while steadfastly refusing to do anything about the desperate circumstances that lead some Americans to sympathize with Stark and perhaps even emulate him.

The challenge for progressives is to call Starks terrorism what it is, while also fighting to change the circumstances that can only push more Americans into desperate acts.

It’s our very own “war on terror.” And we can’t afford to ignore it.

One Comment

  1. Terrorist.

    Or, as I have taken to saying, murderer.