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Was Joe Stack a Terrorist?

On Tax Day, April 15, Americans are angry. Not all of them, and not necessarily those who get money back, but for the millions who have to write a big, fat check to the Internal Revenue Service to feed that overbearing and monstrously over-budget beast in Washington, DC, Tax Day draws an annual battle line between citizens who have too little and a government that takes too much.

On February 18, Andrew Joseph Stack believed he was taking his anti-government battle to the enemy by flying an airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. Explaining his actions, Stack wrote: “Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” Was this an act of terrorism? Ask Vernon Hunter, the 67-year-old Vietnam Veteran and 20-year IRS employee who was killed by Stack. Said Hunter’s son, “My dad, in that building, he didn’t write the tax laws.” But Stack drew no such distinctions, and in murdering the innocent to advance his agenda he committed terrorism that differed from Osama bin Laden’s only in scope.

Yet some could still understand Stack’s anti-government frustration, or as Republican Congressman Steve King said: “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it’s going to be a happy day for America.” Said Republican Senator Scott Brown of Stack: “You don’t know anything about the individual. He could have had other issues, certainly. No one likes paying taxes, obviously. But the way we’re trying to deal with things and have been in the past… people want us to do better. They want us to help solve the problems that are affecting Americans in a very real way.”

In recognizing that widespread, anti-government sentiment exists, neither King nor Brown were justifying Stack’s terrorism, yet both men are the sort of Republicans who pose as being “tough on terror” by attacking anyone that suggests Americans should consider what motivates Islamic terrorists. If King, Brown and others could implicitly understand that Stack was motivated by what he perceived as oppressive government, why is it impossible for them to even consider whether decades of the United States waging war, imposing sanctions and occupying the Middle East motivates Islamic terrorists? The CIA says US foreign interventionism is a primary motivator for Islamic terrorists. The 9/11 Commission Report stated the same. Yet Republicans like King and Brown consider it “blaming America first” to consider whether intrusive bureaucracy, something they clearly believe outrages citizens at home and affects their behavior, could have the same affect on foreigners whose everyday experience with the US government is far worse than mere taxation.

On Tax Day, countless Americans attended Tea Party rallies across the nation to protest government spending and expressed anti-government sentiments similar to Stack’s. Does this make every Tea Partier a potential terrorist? No more than it makes every rapper a potential murderer or every Italian a potential gangster. Yet to watch liberal television hosts like Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow, the Tea Partiers pose a grave and violent threat, worthy of much TV time and gnashing of teeth. If only the Tea Party folks were in some other country challenging the United States government, then perhaps liberals could convince their hero Obama to wage a preventive war to stop them.

Such fear mongering is good political business and not just for liberals. There are thousands if not millions of Middle Easterners who have a beef against the United States government. You can find anti-American signs, protests and sentiment throughout that part of the world, but still, the number of actual terrorists is comparatively small. Amusingly, right-wing talk radio imagines armies of Islamic terrorists whose only motivation is a religion-fueled hatred for American “freedom,” in much the same way liberals see Tea Partiers as terrorist armies motivated by racism or anything else, other than what they actually say.

Like vigilantism or crimes of passion, understanding something is not the same as condoning it. Tea Partiers want government out of their lives, and sympathizers like King and Brown don’t seem overly shocked that a man like Stack would go to the extreme that he did. People living in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East have wanted the US government out of their lives for at least two decades and have said so repeatedly. Needless to say, many Middle Easterners were probably not as surprised by 9/11 as most Americans were.

Terrorism is a tactic of the weak waged against the innocent in order to elicit fear or provoke a reaction. That was the entire purpose of 9/11 — and it worked — per our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine if our government had responded to Stack’s terrorist attack in the same mindless manner by dropping bombs on Tea Party rallies? Stack would be vindicated, men like Steve King and Scott Brown would be declaring conservative jihad and we would undoubtedly start seeing more Joe Stacks-and understandably so.

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