Joe Stack was a terrorist. Period.
If intentionally targeting civilians with acts of violence is terrorism, then Mr. Stack was a domestic terrorist. So why the nonchalance, even empathy, from conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa and Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts who are typically “strong on defense?”
The progressive blogosphere and media rushed to label Stack a “tea party terrorist” and associate him with the resurgent antitax protest movement in the United States (conveniently ignoring the concluding swipe Stack’s suicide note made at capitalism: “The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”)
Yet despite this glaring omission of something you probably won’t see on a sign at your next tea party rally, it would seem that tea party activists have bought into the smear that Stack is one of their own. Their reactions have varied from explicit endorsements of Stack’s violence, like this appalling tweet from TeaPartyPatriots.org, “God bless Joe Stack an american hero,” to lukewarm condemnations and awkward dismissals of his behavior, à la Representative King and Senator Brown.
It’s hard for me not to feel like the only fervent antitax activist out there who is unequivocally opposed to Stack’s domestic terrorism. When I published an unqualified condemnation of Stack on my blog, I received comments like this one: “Sometimes there MUST be blood. Call me a troll if you must.… The problem with condemning the man’s actions while accepting his words is that we come across like a toothless sheepdog.”
I sympathize strongly with the grievances of the tea party movement and have been active in it from the beginning. I hate to paint it in a bad light, because I believe it is a mostly peaceful movement. I can’t imagine my grandmother wanting to hurt anybody – and trust me when I say that there are a lot of grandmothers at these tea party protests. I earnestly believe that the tea party’s motivations are not partisan, and certainly not racist.
So why on earth can’t they just call Stack a terrorist? Apart from the misguided, like that commentator at my blog, why won’t the grandmas and US senators on “the right” call Stack exactly what he is? Yes, to some degree it’s because they’ve bought into the association of Stack with the tea party and are reticent to criticize anyone associated with it – however specious that association may be – as a terrorist. But it runs deeper.
When Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, there was no hesitation to label him a terrorist. So what’s the difference? The Oklahoma City bombing happened before the 9/11 attacks, and the Austin plane crash happened post-9/11. In 2010, a terrorist is not someone who targets civilians to accomplish political goals; a terrorist is a Muslim who targets civilians to accomplish political goals.
This is an intrinsically myopic view of the world. Muslims are not the only terrorists. When my father was my age, the word “terrorist” was associated with Irish Christians. When my great-grandfather was my age, it was associated with Jewish anarchists. Only today is terror primarily associated with Islam.
At a time like this, if every disgruntled American did what Stack did, our great country would be reduced to ashes. If the tea party wants to be taken seriously, it is going to have to take the complex world we live in more seriously. He may not have been a Muslim, but Joe Stack was a terrorist. Period.
Wesley Messamore is the editor in chief of The Humble Libertarian.