Software engineer Joe Stack’s apparent suicide mission to destroy an IRS office in Austin on Thursday culminated a long slide toward personal and economic despair, as laid out in Stack’s rambling online manifesto.
At least one person was killed, two others were hospitalized, and Stack himself died after the 50-something part-time musician gunned his Piper Cherokee and aimed the aircraft into a north Austin office building where the IRS had an office.
Given Stack’s self-described rant about “American zombies” needing to wake up, the attack, at least to one former terrorist interviewed by the Monitor, is just the latest in a steady stream of domestic, and often antigovernment, terror attacks – from the Holocaust Museum shooting to the Arkansas recruiting office murder – that are partly fueled by larger, corrosive forces dogging a country facing deep internal turmoil, some of which is fueled by single-minded partisanship in Washington.
“This [attack] is symptomatic of a bigger problem,” says “Tabernacle of Hope” author Kerry Noble, a reformed domestic terrorist who spent time in prison in the 1980s for attempting to blow up a gay church.
“Part of the frustration people are feeling, in addition to the economy, is a sense of not feeling like solutions are coming. When all they hear from the media and the government is strong partisanship and strong animosities, that doesn’t help the American people to feel like, ‘Hey, I can endure this, because something better is coming.’ Instead they say, ‘How is my situation ever going to change, except for the worse?’ ”
Attacks on the IRS, or IRS agents, is nothing new, as the Washington Post reports, listing three major incidents in the past decade. Those incidents have increased, in part due to the poor economy, since the agency stepped up enforcement efforts in 2008, J. Russell George, who heads the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, told the Post.
But Stack’s attack also comes amid growing concerns about right-wing extremism, as embodied by an eventually retracted Justice Department report last year – not to mention an equally strong backlash from so-called Constitutional conservatives, who sported “I’m a proud right-wing extremist” T-shirts during protests last year.
To be sure, movements like the "tea party" phenomenon are, for many Americans, a healthy and ultimately hopeful outlet for pent-up frustration about a country they see as straying off-course. The vast majority of antigovernment and anti-Obama protesters are intent on curtailing Washington’s power at the poll booth, not through armed revolt.
For others, apparently like Stack, the sense of hopelessness – as evidenced by his rambling, anti-Big Brother manifesto – turned dark enough to spark an attack that would get his problems noticed.
“This was a cowardly act of domestic terrorism," says Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) of Texas in a statement. He added that Stack's rant "reflects the steadily increasing flow of 'the government is out to get me' paranoia."
But Stack’s complaints about being taxed twice by the IRS and losing tens of thousands of dollars received some sympathy as Americans pored over the “Joe Stack Manifesto” yesterday. Facebook reportedly took down a number of quotes expressing admiration for Stack's murderous act.
But recalling his own journey from hate to hope, Mr. Noble argues that Stack’s problems were ultimately his own.
“It’s easier to just keep blaming somebody – the IRS in this case – instead of taking personal responsibility,” Noble says. “Once you get to the point where it’s always somebody else’s fault, the darkness can overtake you completely.”
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