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Revenge of the Herd

Maybe you had the impression Republicans were "strong on defense" and that conservatives consider terrorists to be an unappeasable threat to civilization.

Then came Joe Stack - the anti-tax, anti-government software engineer who plane-bombed an IRS building in Texas two weeks ago, killing two civilian employees. Frankly, I didn't pay it much mind until Republican Congressman Steve King said he can empathize with Stack and conservatives everywhere started lauding him as a "hero."

Is there now any doubt? When conservatives talk about "terrorists," what they really mean are Arabs, Muslims or any other brown or dark-skinned person who, like Joe, thinks "violence is the only way."

When Afghanis and Iraqis take up arms to fight a military invasion, we call them "terrorists," even if military targets are attacked. Yet, despite the fact that he targeted civilians - and because he had no obvious ties to "Islamo-fascism" - Joe the Engineer has sparked a debate over whether he should be called a terrorist. And while the debate may not be surprising, it's still an Orwellian wonder to behold.

Interesting to note: according to the weekly tracker at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the kamikaze mission in Texas was only the fifth-biggest story of that week; behind the economy, the Winter Olympics, Afghanistan and the 2010 elections.

Remember the airline terror plot foiled just before Christmas? There was no debate about what to call it, and it was the top story for the entire week, getting almost 20 percent more news hole than Joe-sama bin Stack, even though Joe has far more sympathizers in the U.S. than al Qaeda could ever hope to have. Hmmmm.

But I'll give Tea Party supporter and editor of The Humble Libertarian magazine, Wesley Messamore, credit for calling it straight.

"Joe Stack was a terrorist. Period," he chastised his fellow anti-tax activists in a column last week.


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Still, it would be a distortion to say Stack was a typical right wing extremist. In the rant he left behind, you'll find criticism of "big business" and a riff on capitalism in there. "The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed."

When have you ever heard anyone on the right say anything bad about capitalism, even if it's an obvious truism? I'm not saying Joe Stack is the new Che Guevera, I'm just sayin.

A tragic irony in all this, however, has been left/right out of the discussion. Joe was a software engineer! For a computer guy to be that pissed at the IRS is more than tragic irony. It's tragic absurdity, really. And for the anti-tax activists claiming Stack as their hero, its absurdity to the tenth power.

I hate to rain on a good Tea Party but without "big government" there wouldn't be an internet. And no, I'm not talking about Al Gore.

The internet has its technological roots in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Vincent Cerf and Robert Kahn - recognized "fathers of the internet" in a field of many collaborators - are careful to point out the non-market "dimensions that enabled the Internet to come into existence and flourish. This aspect of the story starts with cooperation and far-sightedness in the U.S. Government, which is often derided for lack of foresight but is a real hero in this story."

Peter Klein - no friend of government, writing for the right-wing think-tank The Ludwig Von Mises Institute - puts it even more bluntly: "the role of the government in the creation of the internet is often understated. The internet owes its very existence to the state and to state funding."

"Free-market" rhetoric aside, the economic system we have is: public subsidy, private profit. Hence, the Energy Department's office of "technology transfer," which boasts "that fully half the growth in the American economy in the last 50 years was due to funding of scientific and technological innovation." With tax dollars, needless to say.

So, now we know Congressman King can empathize with terrorists like Joe Stack. But, do you think he can appreciate the irony of a computer guy biting the hand that Fed his profession, even as millions of anti- "big government" tax activists benefit from Uncle Sam underwriting emerging markets with tax dollars?

Sean Gonsalves

Sean Gonsalves is a columnist and editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at

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