Joe Stack Joins Other Domestic Terrorists on The Dark Side of History

19 Feb

The blazing assault by Joe Stack on the Austin IRS offices comes at a scary time in American politics.  The euphoria felt in some corners of America after the election of Barack Obama has now given way to fear.  Fear by many, especially those drawn to the populist Tea Party demonstrations and events, of an all-powerful government seen as out of control.  Fear also, by those who see government as a useful tool to correct social injustice and to aid those who need assistance.  That fear is in the form that Obama’s promise is being wasted by political theater and partisan divisiveness in Congress and throughout our nation.  One needs only look at Senator Evan Bayh’s acid comments on the political gridlock in Washington City, and the upset win by a Republican as Ted Kennedy’s replacement, to see the political tempest we are now in.

Joe Stack saw the government as an enemy out to get him with tax laws designed to enrich the powerful and already-rich (his manifesto cited Enron, General Motors, and the Wall Street scandals) and not designed to help average Americans.  These opinions are nothing new.  Many activists on both sides of the political spectrum have said similar things for decades, if not centuries, while trying to advance their own agendas.  The scary thing about Joe Stack is that he not only openly called for Americans to revolt and use violence to fix these problems; he acted on his own call to violence.  And then he went from being just another taxpayer with a grudge against the IRS to a domestic terrorist when he plunged his plane into a downtown Austin office building full of innocent people.  Government workers and bureaucrats who are often the butt of anti-government jokes and insults, yes, but still people innocent of anything deserving of death.

While reading Joe Stack’s manifesto, some parts of his diatribe sounded quite similar to commentary made by the Tea Party activists and many economic conservatives critical of the government in general and President Obama in particular.  While calls for violence are thankfully few and far between, the fact that many Americans who suffered losses in the Great Recession; lost jobs, lost homes, lost hope, may read Stack’s manifesto and see themselves in his list of travails and critiques of government and Wall Street.  While clearly no fan of President George W. Bush, Stack in that regard mirrors many who today are frustrated with the system.  Analysts have noted that many ordinary citizens drawn to the Tea Party are not necessarily friends of the Republican Party, despite their opposition to the Obama Administration.  The fear mentioned earlier is also felt in the GOP, as party leaders see a new movement arise that they may not be able to control and which may turn on them as part of the partisan problem. 

Many incumbent politicians fear the rising anti-incumbent fever gripping the electorate; as well they should.  But that fear should be only of losing their jobs, not of losing their lives.  America is one of the world’s most successful, rich, and powerful nations not because we can beat anyone on the battlefield or because our citizenry is any smarter than the rest of the world.  No, America’s promise, and America’s success, rests in the relative stability ensured by our imperfect, yet functioning Constitution, and by the tradition of political stability Americans have cultivated over the centuries.  We are no banana republic with a history of coups, revolutions, and constant civil war.   We know that when President Obama’s time in office ends, either through the ballot box or through constitutionally-mandated term limits, he will leave office, just as all of his predecessors have done.  When Americans “throw the Bums out,” to use an old-time phrase, we do so with the ballot box, not a box of bullets.  Joe Stack (and before him, Timothy McVeigh, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, and all of our other domestic terrorists and assassins) got it all wrong.  Some misguided fools may see Stack as a populist hero, but in reality, he misused his anger and rage, and took a step (or flight, as the case may be) onto the Dark Side of American history.


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