Joseph Stack — remember him? He’s the guy who crashed his plane into an Internal Revenue Service building in Austin last week. Fifty-three years old, Stack killed one IRS manager, Vernon Hunter, a Vietnam veteran, and wounded 13 more before killing himself, but you'd be forgiven for forgetting his name, because he largely fell out of the news in the days afterward...
That’s not so say there hasn’t been howling. When Stack’s daughter told ABC’s Good Morning America that she considered her father a hero there was outrage, and reasonably so. Facebook fan pages praising Stack have shown up with links to right-wing, so-called patriot groups and at the CPAC conservative organizing meeting in DC more than one GOP member referred sympathetically to Stack’s anti-government views.
Outrage at all of that’s utterly justified. 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.
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?”
Well said. But it’s not just the hypocrisy that’s the problem, it’s the lack of serious coverage. By all means hold those who praise Stack to account, and call out media hypocrisy and double standards. But before you dismiss him as simply a crazy, read his manifesto. It’s posted online. I quote:
“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities…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….this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their… cronies.”
Most of what Stack has to say’s not mad. Or incoherent. Does is justify killing? Not at all, but should the extreme right be the only ones responding? I’d say not. Stack’s was a lone act — and let’s hope it stays that way, but — as after 9-11 — asking why is again worth doing… We have choices about how to respond. Denial’s only one of them.
This article was updated 2/23/10 to correct the first paragraph. Joseph Stack was not a Vietnam veteran. However, the man he killed, Vernon Hunter, was.