Joe Stack IRS attack: 'hero' debate heats up

Joe Stack, who attacked the IRS by flying his plane into its offices in Austin, Texas, is being lauded as a 'hero' in antigovernment circles. The son of the man he killed strongly disagrees.

Tony Gutierrez/AP
Killeen Police detectives huddle beneath a tent Saturday in front of what remains of a plane wreckage inside a building in Austin, Texas that housed IRS offices. Some are hailing Joe Stack, who flew the plane into the building in a suicide attack that killed one IRS employee, as a hero in the antigovernment movement.

Joe Stack attacked the IRS by flying his plane into one of its buildings. Is he a hero?

Some people think so. Stack’s adult daughter, Samantha Bell, said Monday that her father’s attack was “inappropriate” but that she considered him heroic because of his antigovernment views.

“Maybe now people will listen,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Stack is also becoming a hero to the radical right – specifically, white supremacists and their fellow travelers, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Supremacist web forums have been filled with comments that elevate Stack into an icon of resistance to tyranny, writes Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

Potok quotes one poster on, a large supremacist web site, as saying, “The Guy is a true HERO!!!”

There is no indication that Stack himself had racist ideas, but that has not stopped those who do from being thoroughly excited by his actions, writes Potok on the SPLC’s “Hatewatch” blog.

“A few other white supremacists suggested that lionizing Stack could be a bad thing for the radical right, but they appeared to be in a minority,” writes Potok.

Stack’s actions killed both himself and Vernon Hunter, an IRS employee in the agency’s Austin, Texas, building.

Hunter’s son said Monday that he is alarmed by the fact that some people are beginning to portray his father’s killer as someone noble and courageous.

“How can you call someone a hero who after he burns down his house, he gets into his plane ... and flies it into a building to kill people?” said son Ken Hunter on ABC. “My dad, Vernon, did tours of duty in Vietnam. My dad’s a hero.”

Others have noted that an Iraq War veteran named Robin De Haven, an Austin area glass company worker, stopped his truck, hauled off his ladder, and rushed to the burning IRS building, rescuing five people through broken windows as smoke poured out into the air.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R) of Texas, in whose district the disaster occurred, has hailed the “great acts of heroism” of those who responded to the attack.

But the debate on the true hero of that day likely will continue for some time to come. Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, is a domestic terrorist to most in the US. He remains a hero to some for his antigovernment views, however.

And Joe Stack is already becoming a sort of mythic figure, in a way. There is already a crude, homemade video game of his attack circulating on the Internet – and there is already at least one large Facebook page, The philosophy of Joe Stack, devoted to discussing his antigovernment views.


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