Here is my appraisal of Joe Stack’s plane attack on the IRS building. I’ve only begun to look at in more detail. I’ve watched some news reports and read some of the details in the suicide note. My tentative conclusions stated here might change based on further research or they might not.
Was the kamikaze pilot a rightwing terroritst? Well, let’s break it down.
Was he a terrorist? That is a complex question. There are many definitions that I’ve seen. By some official definitions, he would be categorized as a terrorist. By other official definitions, he wouldn’t be categorized as a terrorist. So, I’m going to simplify it with more specific questions.
Did he copy the actions of those deemed terrorists? Yes. The method wasn’t original. Obviously, his actions remind everyone of 9/11. It probably was even intentional that he copied the method of terrorists. This guy, like the 9/11 terrorists, both perceived the US government as corrupt. In protesting this perceived corrupt governmenet, this guy, like the 9/11 terrorists, attacked a symbol of the economic power of the US government. He used a similar violent method to make a similar statement of violent protest.
Did he cause terror? Yes, most definitely yes. The people in that building were terrorized. IRS workers across the country now will go to work everyday in a state of fear. This is similar to how, since the killing of Dr. Tiller, family planning doctors will go to work everyday in fear or else out of fear quit their jobs and not go to work at all. Terrorism is effective in that it causes terror… that is why it’s called terrorism.
Did he intened to cause terror? Probably. HIs act of protest was intentionally violent and violence causes terror. It’s probably safe to assume that he understood that his causing violence would cause terror. I don’t know if he intended terror per se. He may not have thought of himself as a terrorist, but he did intend retribution. His purpose seemed to be to cause suffering on those he deemed to have caused his own suffering. The intention of terror seems implied in both the note and the act. It’s hard to know his precise intentions, but that is equally true of the 9/11 terrorists. We aren’t reluctant to call Muslims terrorists even when they leave no note about their intentions.
To me, determining it was terrorism is simple. It was an act that intentionally caused terror. Terrorism is as terrorism does. I, however, understand why others don’t consider it terrorism. Joe Stack wasn’t a part of a terrorist group. My response to that is terrorism isn’t limited to collective action. Also, an argument can be made that this act of violence resonates with other recent acts of violence that were motivated by fear and hatred of government. The same atmosphere of fear-mongering about the government (Beck being the most extreme example) contributes to people on the edge going whole hog over the edge (Beck about sends me over the edge on occasion). Violent speech doesn’t directly cause violent action, but it makes it more likely. The political polarization in general creates a mood of conflict that impacts the entire country (not just Beckheads and Tea Partiers).
More interesting to me is determining the ideology that motivated this particular act of violence. My most specific interest is in wondering if there is a connection to the other acts of violence from this past year. A lot of the violence recently has seemed correlated to a particular worldview of social and/or fiscal conservatism. So…
Was he rightwinger? At first, I thought yes. I guess it depends on how rightwing is defined, but it can’t be denied he espoused at least some of what is typically labelled as rightwing ideology. His criticisms of the IRS resonate with fiscal conservatism and would be right at home on a sign carried in a Tea Party protest. That said, I haven’t heard of any evidence that he was a part of the Tea Party movement or any other specific movements. He did belong to a group at one time that discussed tax law. The important point is whether he became extreme in his viewpoint simply through his own experience or by being influenced by others. Besides movements or groups, I’d like to know what news sources he read and if there were any place on the web where he regularly commented.
I’ve only skimmed his letter, but the conclusion at the end does create a bit of uncertainty about his actual criticism and the ideology that motivated it.
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.
Before I looked at the letter, someone mentioned his statement about communism but didn’t offer the specific quote. I assumed it was the typical rightwinger preaching of anti-conmmunism. I was clearly wrong. I still don’t know what it means.
(Note: It’s unclear that Stack was a communist or was even basing his argument on communism. Comparative statements like the one Stack made have a varied history. One writer at Newsweek thinks it probably originated from Henry Fairlie who considered himself a conservative, but of course conservatives disagree with this connection because they don’t think Fairlie was a real conservative as he didn’t worship Reagan.)
Conservatives are fond of saying that liberals who turn to conservativsm have been “mugged by reality”. However, Joe Stack seems to have been a man who tried to make it in the world of capitalism (the pillar of modern conservatism) and was mugged by reality. Stack came to an interesting conclusion. It wasn’t simply the IRS that was at fault. Apparently, he was arguing that big government and big business were to blame (and he shared the blame with big religion as well). That isn’t exactly rightwinger or leftwinger. That is more in the territory of between libertarianism and anarchism.
I’m still a bit confused. I heard Joe Stack was a small business owner. Many small business owners are Republican or Libertarian (even when socially liberal). Mr. Stack very well might’ve been a conservative at one time. Maybe his protest was against the conservative ideal of free market capitalism which he thought had failed him… just a theory but it could explain a lot. Despite the ideology, Republican politcians aren’t any more likely to help the small business owner than are Democratic politicians and so it’s understandable that a small business owner might become dissatisfied with mainstream conservatism. He seemed to be embittered about the whole system and the IRS was just a symbolic target. He wasn’t attacking anyone in particular. He attacked a building… a building that symbolized the institution of the IRS, of the government, of the entire socio-political system.
Okay. I was definitely wrong in thinking he was just a rightwing extremist, but he isn’t a leftwing extremist either. So, what is he? The problem is that our language is limited when it comes to labelling the ideologies of people. I’ll have to read more of the letter to see if I can determine his views. My suspicion is that he was a libertarian who started leaning socialist as the system failed to help him. If so, does his letter portray him as more of a socialist libertarian or a libertarian socialist? And was he actually a proponent of communism or simply using communist ideology as a convenient criticism of capitalist ideology?
His ‘communist’ statement, especially in context of his anti-government sentiments, isn’t that far off from what some anarchists preach. Anarchism tends to be socialist if it focuses on the worker class and tends to be capitalist if it focuses on the owner class. I assume he was being critical of our corporatocracy, but he may not have been against ‘capitalism’ as defined by some anarchist-leaning libertarians. I don’t know if it ultimately matters. I’m just curious if he was critical of our present capitalist system because he wished a true capitalist system would replace it or because he thought the entire basis of capitalism was faulty. There is a big difference between the two.
Let me add one further question.
Does Joe Stack’s violent act discredit the message of protest and criticism? No. This is no different than the fact that the 9/11 terrorists didn’t discredit all Muslims around the world. Every group has extremists, but it should be pointed out that certain groups are more prone to violent extremism than others. Those who criticize the government for reasons of anti-taxation (and right to bear arms) tend to be more violent in their protests than environmentalists for whatever reason. This often seems like a right/left divide (similar to pro-lifers being more violent than pro-choicers), but in this case no particular ideological movement can be blamed and discredited.
I’m very critical of big government. I think the taxation system is unfair. And I’m certainly not a rightwinger. This incident is sad because violence is rarely inspiring but more importantly it’s sad because the criticisms themselves get discredited in the mainstream media. The Tea Party itself will become less credible simply for being ideologically similar to Joe Stack’s criticisms. But criticisms of the government in general, from both the left and the right, get put in the light of extremism because of this act of terrorism. Violence isn’t an effective method in getting people to take your message seriously. Such acts of violence only justifies the government becoming more oppressive in maintaining order.
It’s actually more interesting that he didn’t turn out to be just a typical Tea Party protester. And I’m glad it’s forcing the media to come to terms with the true political complexity of the American public. All of this fits into my recent research into different movements and ideologies.
Despite the GOP and Fox News trying to take control, the Tea Party isn’t a simple rightwing movement. It includes a fairly wide range of people and interests (although still too narrow to be a truly populist movement). And if you look at the origins of the Tea Party, you discover Ron Paul followers which touches upon the libertarian party. Libertarians and independents have been behind all of the diverse protest movements/groups: Peace Protests, Truthers, Birthers. Et Cetera. There are white supremacists mixed in here, but there also those who geninely believe in freedom and civil rights for all. There are militia secessionists involved in many of these protests, but most protesters don’t want violence and many in fact are pacifists. The media can’t understand this kind of complexity. Every movement has to be categorized as left or right. Peace protesters were leftwingers because Republicans said so, and Tea Partiers are rightwing because Democrats say so. There are ideological differences in these movements, but there also is much crossover. Ron Paul libertarians were participated in the peace protests and now they’ve participate in the Tea Party protests.
Joe Stack is even more difficult to categorize than the libertarians. His complaints is a sampling of the entire range of criticism. As an extremist, he comes off as a middle-of-the-road average American with gripes against the wealthy and powerful elite.
Here are some interesting articles, blogs, and videos about the topic (or of related topics):