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February 19, 2010

Of course it was terrorism

I can't believe people are seriously debating whether yesterday's suicide attack on the IRS building in Austin was an act of terrorism. If the manifesto attributed to pilot Joe Stack and published on his website is authentic, then he was a terrorist.

This passage should remove all doubt:

Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough).  In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws.

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand.  It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants.  I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after.  But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change.  I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less.  I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are.  Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

A classic definition of terrorism is using force, or the threat of force, to coerce a civilian population to advance a political or ideological agenda.

Stack wasn't politically-motivated in the sense that his agenda fits any recognizable political philosophy. His manifesto isn't liberal or conservative, it's a paranoid incoherent mishmash of populism, rage, and self-pity.

Still, Stack thought he was striking a blow against a tyrannical government. He wasn't like the disgruntled postal worker who decides to destroy all the supervisors who made his life miserable. Stack said he hoped that his spectacular act of violence would galvanize others to rebel against the government. Those are clearly political motives.

Sure, he wanted revenge, but he intended for his act of vengeance to have broader repercussions. Stack's attitude wasn't so different from a Palestinian suicide bomber who hopes his martyrdom will inspire others. It wasn't a totally irrational idea. Within minutes of the crash, Stack fan sites were springing up online.

In his manifesto, Stack explicitly articulated a motive often attributed to terrorists: Goading an adversary to overreact, thereby fueling a backlash. Osama bin Laden hoped that the 9/11 attacks would provoke the U.S. into declaring war on a Muslim country. Stack hoped to provoke the U.S. government into further unpopular restrictions on personal liberties.

Terrorism isn't a natural kind. It's a somewhat arbitrary category that is supposed to encompass a broad spectrum of behavior. The best definition is the one that draws the most illuminating distinctions.

The most interesting hallmark of terrorism is the use of spectacular violence for psychological leverage. The terrorist knows that a big enough atrocity will force us to pay attention to him, and by extension, his political agenda. Stack was in no position to lead an insurgency against the U.S. government, but he could own the news cycle for a day or two. By this definition, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan was a terrorist. He apparently wanted to strike a blow for his version of Islam against the U.S. military. 

There are gray areas, of course. Real life is a lot messier than the neat categories we create to make sense of it. There's probably a continuum between terrorists and mass killers with more personal motives.

Was ultra-misogynist gym shooter George Sodini a terrorist according to the leverage through spectacle criterion? Arguably he was because he went on a shooting spree to draw attention to his alleged grievances against the entire female gender, and no doubt to intimidate or coerce women in general. Though he didn't make any specific political demands, his spree definitely had a strong ideological component.

Contrast Stark, Hasan, and Sodini with Jiverly Voong who gunned down 14 people at an immigration services center in Binghamton, New York. Voong was lonely, unhappily unemployed, and furious at the world, but it seems unlikely that he went on the rampage to draw attention to the plight of people like him, or some social or political condition that he blamed for his misery. 

Terrorism has always been a tool of asymmetrical conflict--a tactic used by the weak against the strong. But in an age of mass media, terrorists gain ever more power over us. Any attack anywhere is national news for days. We live in fear, not that we're going to get blown up, but that someone, somewhere is going to blow himself up and the whole world will go crazy. It's the crazification we should be afraid of.

Terrorists, and the demagogues who gain power by promising to protect us from terrorists, are exploiting our inability to reason objectively about risks. Terrorism has never killed as many Americans as automobile accidents. Yet the U.S. reshaped its entire foreign policy and legal system in response to terrorist attacks.  Whether counter-terrorism real motive is irrelevant. The point is that large numbers of people decided the terror threat dire enough to Change Everything.

So it's no surprise that future disgruntled zealots who hope to Change Everything will look to terrorism.


If it's terrorism, do we get to re-animate his charred remains using Pentagon dark magic and kill him all over again?

I believe there's an earmark being written for that right now.

"A classic definition of terrorism is using force, or the threat of force, to coerce a civilian population to advance a political or ideological agenda."

Why is everyone blind to the universal application of that statement? The govt qualifies as a terrorist. If you as a civilian don't want to advance the political ideology of war, health care, retirement, schooling, religion, you are threatened with force first, then the application of force.

The IRS is the terrorist wing of the politicians. They are the people that threatens and applies violence to people who disagree with the politician's agenda.

That is humpty-dumpty logic, at least in a more-or-less democracy. The king's tax collectors may be terrorists, but ours mostly work for us, and ensure that nobody shirks their responsibility to help fund the government, which mostly does stuff that most of us approve of. *I* may think it spends too much on defense, but enough people disagree with me that we maintain our level of defense spending. *You* may think that we spend too much on social services, but enough people disagree with you to ensure that we continue that spending.

If you don't like it, I hear that the Kaczynski cabin is available, you are welcome to go Galt.

"His manifesto isn't liberal or conservative, it's a paranoid incoherent mishmash of populism, rage, and self-pity."

Isn't this a fairly accurate description of the Tea Party crowd and the type of people that Limbaugh, Beck, Palin and Fox News are trying to stir into a frenzy. If a loved one of mine were harmed by an idiot like this, I would seek my pound of flesh from Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Fox News, etc. Just sayin'......

Stack's diatribe is no different from the Unibomber's manifesto. The Unibomber used a delivery service for a pipe bomb. Stacks handled the delivery himself in an airplane.


Granted, he was a home grown domestic terrorist - same as McVey. He made the delivery, himself, in a truck.


So, if his rage is an incoherent mix of both left & right tropes, wasn't this guy, then, a centrist extremist, a moderate terrorist, an independent bomber?

and more importantly wtf?

George, the site of the attack is very much in town, that ad plane is just making its normal rounds.

You know, this dude was upset that he wasn't getting all the toys he felt a white guy was entitled to. Far from realizing that he was now living how everybody else lived, this asshole wanted his toys back and ranted about how it was all everybody's fault but his. Oh, yeah, and he scared his wife so bad the night before that she seized their kid and took off; he then set hte house on fire, destroying God only knows what personal belongings and maybe pets as well.

Oh, no, not the conservative white male mindset at all.

Yeah, I thought it was touching how pilot/entrepreneur/musician/software engineer/economist/political philosopher Joe Stack provided so well for the future of his wife and kid.

That bazillions of libertarian, tea-bagger, tax revolt patriots are all over the web lauding this fool as an “American hero” does not bode well for the rest of us in the reality-based community.

He openly hoped that he would be the first of many. Gee, if only for his sake the Teabaggers weren't such a level-headed, reasonable, historically-accurate movement. Holy cow, we're in for a long hot summer.

I want to make a joke about many conservatives killing themselves, but I think it'll be inappropriate.

So let me just say that it's common for partisan terrorists to describe themselves using incoherent rage with terminology from both sides, especially for ones on the right. Read any New Deal-era speech about how Jews, blacks, and Catholics are destroying America. The timing of this attack screams conservative; a leftist would primarily use communist or anarchist language. Right-wingers sometimes appropriate anarchist language, but they'll always find a place to rant about women's suffrage leading to government dependence, whereas real anarchists would mention corporations and capitalism and quote Chomsky and Emma Goldman.

"ends justify the means" seems to be engraved on every mind that resorts to violence for individual gains. stacks was not trying to change the system for others, he just wanted it to be different for him. if every person who thinks he/she is being overtaxed starts suicide-homicide, then we are doomed. did stacks actually think he was destroying the IRS without killing other people? how many times will i have to repeat this truth: the govt and its agencies are not alien entities made up of inanimate objects like paper and machine. policies are not tangible elements that you can physically blow up. stacks actually WANTED to hurt someone, cause them pain so he could "get some satisfaction". if stacks did what he did for altruistic reasons, then he failed. if he had survived this attack, the system that he despised would have ordered psychological tests, courts would have appointed pro bono legal aid, then shifted him into a minimum security mental institution to live out his life on - guess whose? - taxpayers money!! all shooting sprees are conducted by persons who have a personal score to settle. well, for all the wanna-be-stacks out there and all the misguided fans: take inspiration from the tibetans fighting for independence.

we now have an INDIE-BOMBER, someone not attached to any fanatic group or someone trying to bring about world peace.

That bazillions of libertarian, tea-bagger, tax revolt patriots are all over the web lauding this fool as an “American hero” does not bode well for the rest of us in the reality-based community

If there's anything we've learned from conservatives over the last decade, its that cultures that produce and then venerate suicide bombers are "cultures of death", completely depraved and alien to our own understanding. The only thing these people understand is force. And, for the life of me, I can't understand why we haven't already reduced some random town in Ron Paul's congressional district to rubble.

Of course, I dare say no Palestinian ever endured the horror of losing $40K and being reduced in assets to a large, multistory house and private plane, all while deaing with the revelation that life and the tax code are so totally unfair.

Haw haw

Yeah, the conservatives really are getting behind the dead pilot / maniac. Why they surely support the kamikaze's tactic in the same percentages as the Palis and others have for Muslim suicide bombing.


We live in fear, not that we're going to get blown up, but that someone, somewhere is going to blow himself up and the whole world will go crazy.

Maybe you do, but I don't.

"Of course it was..." and "I can't believe people are seriously debating" are phrases that have no place in thoughtful writing, in my respectful view. I agree that on the definition you stipulate it appears this was terrorism.

I find it fascinating that few people on the internet, really have no idea exactly what he was referring to in his letter.

If I were to add another sin to the weight of his crime, it was that he didn't explain himself well.

Previous to 1986, there were a lot more tax codes designed to help bootstrap small businesses. Reagan and Dick Armey, along with other Republicans changed that and singled out people in the high tech professions, then made that change retroactive.

Suddenly these people had to come up with back taxes, perhaps fire people, and close their businesses. The IRS dealt with this by simply freezing accounts without warning. It Didn't matter if you were in the right or not.

Plumbers could still count themselves as a business, and private contractors, but not scientists or engineers.

In the software industry, have you hear about how when entrepreneurs make it rich, they close the door they came through? This is one of those examples.

A lot of folks got burned by this. Evidently, he never forgot it.

And yes, he's a terrorist. Yes, what he did was wrong. But only ignorance of the history of the industry, makes his ramblings incoherent. He could have written a longer, more explanatory letter for the benefit of the younger folks.

Thanks, Weaseldog. I was completely confused by his description of the tax changes you have just clarified.

Hehe, I didn't do that good of a job, Parse.

The idea was that you as an individual contractor could operate as a business. You keep a separate set of books and accounts for the business, then a set for your personal accounts.

The when the client pays you, no payroll taxes are levied at that time.

When you pay yourself payroll, out of the business accounts, then are responsible for paying your personal taxes. The business accounts get taxed as a business, with appropriate deductions for expenses, profits and losses, etc...

This did allow a lot of fast and loose accounting shenanigans, but it also drove a number of silicon valley start ups.

"Of course it was..." and "I can't believe people are seriously debating" are phrases that have no place in thoughtful writing, in my respectful view.

Why not? Is thoughtful writing supposed to act as if every claim, no matter how obviously false, or every idea, no matter how deranged, is reasonable? That strikes me as the opposite of "thoughtful."

Not exactly, since the goal of thoughtful writing may be to show that a claim is unreasonable. But a thoughtful writer who judges a claim to be worth dismantling won’t want to belittle those who take it seriously enough to think it worth debating. The thoughtful writer doesn’t want to 'persuade' by intimidation or cause potential interlocutors to fear ridicule. And the thoughtful writer pausing to take apart someone else’s claim by reasoned argument is obligated to proceed from shared ground, and in that sense to suspend judgment as to whether the claim is false or 'deranged'.

So in my very respectful view the phrases I singled out are distracting, and unworthy of the thoughtful writer of this blog.

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