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Joe Stack: who will take right-wing terrorism seriously?

When most Americans think of terrorism, certain images come to mind: airplanes flying into the World Trade Center. Muslim men with long beards in Afghanistan. Dark-skinned people trying to set off bombs on airplanes.

But is Islamic-based terrorism a primary threat? Maybe the face of terrorism is more diverse than that. Perhaps it is also a middle-aged white man. Perhaps it looks like Joe Stack.

On February 18, Stack, an Austin, Texas man with tax problems, flew his personal airplane into the Internal Revenue Office Building in Austin. He killed one IRS employee and himself. His manifesto explained that the IRS forced him to violence after a tax code switch in the 1980s ruined his life. Stack’s violent attack on a federal institution is only the latest example of right-wing terrorism to afflict the United States in recent years.

Some have questioned Stack’s right-wing credentials. They point out a reference to communism in his manifesto. This is possible. Parsing the political leanings of an unhinged and suicidal man can be tricky and counterproductive. However, his anti-government leanings and attack on the Internal Revenue Service comes straight from the right-wing playbook.

Regardless, conservatives have taken up Stack’s mantle. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination, told the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend that conservatives needed to “smash the windows out of big government.”

Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King went a step further, expressing sympathy for Stack’s actions. He told a CPAC crowd that they also needed to “implode” IRS offices. Stack’s own daughter has portrayed him as hero. Samantha Bell told Good Morning America that her father’s noble death should serve as a wake-up call to people to stand up against government agents she considers “pompous political thugs and their mindless minions.”

The man Stack killed, Vernon Hunter, served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War. Yet the hero is apparently his murderer.

Stack is the latest in a long string of violent right-wing attacks in recent years. On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, was shot and killed in his church by the anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder. On June 27, 2008, an unemployed truck driver named Jim Adkisson walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and opened fire, killing two. He attacked the Unitarian church for its acceptance of gays and support of abortion rights, and claimed he wanted to kill every Democrat in the House and Senate.

The right-wing Tea Party movement has employed violent rhetoric as well, including a speaker at a Washington state rally claiming she wanted to hang Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray. Some have called Stack the first Tea Party terrorist. While Stack doesn’t seem to have had explicit connections to organized right-wing activism, his actions come from the same conservative anger at the federal government and liberalism.

The most famous example of right-wing terrorism occurred in April 1995, when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two men with long-connections to right-wing militias, blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. 168 people died that day.

These rural-based militias preach anti-government extremism, often mixed with white supremacy, and constitute a real threat, as McVeigh and Nichols proved. Yet the United States has yet to have a serious public dialogue about increasingly frequent right-wing terrorism.

We have three major public spaces to remember victims of terrorism and to think about terrorism’s impact upon national identity. The first is the former World Trade Center site in New York. The second is where Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania. And the third is the Oklahoma City Memorial.

At the first two, visitors can visualize the bad guys, but the Oklahoma City Memorial does a remarkably poor job at contextualizing the attacks. The site is tremendously heartbreaking, but you get no sense that McVeigh and Nichols had right-wing connections. They read like isolated crazy people who just wanted to kill innocent women and children. You see the McVeigh and Nichols as two evil men, not as representatives of a larger terrorist movement.

Politics do enter the Oklahoma City Memorial. The exhibits have several references to so-called “eco-terrorism.” The museum paints eco-terrorism as a serious threat to American national security. Examples of this horror include groups like the Earth Liberation Front setting fire to SUVs in car lots and the 2008 arson of a luxury home development in a Seattle suburb.

While I’m not excusing such actions, they aren’t terrorism. They aren’t attacks upon government institutions, they are not designed to inspire terror in the American population. They are stupid acts of outrage over the destruction of the environment.

When environmentalists start killing CEO’s of chemical companies or blowing up Exxon-Mobil office buildings, then we can make legitimate comparisons between radical environmentalists and right-wing terrorists. Discussing this dubious threat at the Oklahoma City Memorial obscures McVeigh and Nichols’ political leanings.

Of course, conservatives don’t want you to make these connections. They worked hard to ensure an apolitical Oklahoma City Memorial. Say what they will, but events like Oklahoma City, Knoxville, and Austin serve conservative purposes.

Talk-radio and the internet spew an endless expectoration of hate. Republicans might publicly distance themselves from this, but Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al have created a powerful conservative movement with the potential for violence. Jim Adkisson explicitly cited right-wing radio as having influenced his actions.

The threat of right-wing domestic terrorism provides at least as great a threat to the nation as Islamic terrorism. And it’s far past time we started talking about this. How many Americans have to die before we take right-wing terrorism seriously?


Erik Loomis

Erik Loomis is a visiting asst. professor of history at Southwestern University. He blogs at Alterdestiny. He can be reached at eloomis20 [at] gmail [dot] com

14 thoughts on “Joe Stack: who will take right-wing terrorism seriously?

  1. “How many Americans have to die before we take right-wing terrorism seriously?” In a sense, you have answered your own question without realizing you did. If not for the fact that throughout history individuals on both sides have been ignored, extreme acts would never have been necessary. The Tea Party is a prime example. both the original and the current were deemed to be a bunch of “radical, political zealots” that should not be heard, let alone taken seriously. Now, especially in light of the MA election, they are suddenly taking on new credence. Extreme actions by any individual or group, in most cases, can never be condoned. But if you look carefully at the situation that led to the action, you may not sympathize, but should well understand. More and more Americans of all backgrounds are becoming frustrated at the fact that those that represent them in government are not only ignoring their wishes, but are flat out going against them. While cries of “hang them all” may ring out, only those that are part of the “fringe” truly want to resort to extreme measures to include violence. If you can look any of your readers in the eye and say with absolute conviction you believe that this country is headed in a positive direction based upon the principles of this administration, it is you that needs to question your role in society and how you “report” on its path towards violence and who meets the definition of “terrorist”. While the acts of a VERY few may draw most of the attention, the acts of our government (especially those that take place behind closed doors, so much for transparency) have a far more detrimental and long term effect.

  2. MMMmmmm . . . .

    Only one problem, he was a far leftist. He hated Bush and his policies, derided the rich, was a propronent of universal healthcare and embraced communism and Karl Marx.

    He’s one of your bud.

  3. Hilarious…there is no such thing as right wing terrorism and Joe Stack was not right wing.

    It is the left wing that owns terrorism and violence.

    All anyone needs to do is read history to understand the danger of left-wingers and their love of government power.

    In the 20th century alone, totalitarian governments murdered 260 million people.

    The Soviets, the Nazis (yes, left-wing), the Chinese Communists, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and the Iraqis are just a subset of the murderous elites that thought they knew better and used the police power of government to impose their will.

    Much like the Obama, Reid, Pelosi Democrats in this country, the elitists seek to use the power of government to control the lives of individuals.

    It is this the American Founders were so determined to avoid.

    The only hope the human race has for freedom, independence, and self determination is the right wing as described in the United States Constitution.

    The restraint of government and the maximization of individual liberty is the way to prosperity and happiness.

    It is the American model that enabled less than 5% of the world’s population to build the United States into the most powerful, prosperous, wealthy, and generous country in history.

  4. Professor Loomis,

    Perhaps you should actually read Joe Stack’s note. He rails against insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, big corporations, savings and loans, and capitalism.

    That sounds more like an Obama policy speech than a Rush Limbaugh broadcast.

    And, for your information, eco-terrorists have seriously injured at least one person by spiking trees. Tree spiking was declared a federal felony in 1988.

    You mention tea parties, but conveniently left out the fact that the only violence was by leftists against tea partiers, except for the event in Phoenix when the tea partiers had scuffles with Neo-Nazis who attempted to join them.

    Just ask Ken Gladney, an African-American who was attacked by union thugs. Then there was the 65-year old man who had half a finger bitten off by an Obama supporter.

    Maybe you should try discussing the facts instead of indulging your fervid imagination.

    By the way, is Southwestern still a party school filled with kids who couldn’t get into major universities?

    -Michael McCullough

  5. After reading Stack’s suicide note/rant it seems to me he was more left than right.

    For example.

    “the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies.”

    “The rates are 1/3 of what I was earning before the crash, because pay rates here are fixed by the three or four large companies in the area who are in collusion to drive down prices and wages… and this happens because the justice department is all on the take and doesn’t give a fuck about serving anyone or anything but themselves and their rich buddies.”

    “Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”.
    Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.”

    ” The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government. ”

    The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

    The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

    Typical lefty boilerplate that would not seem remarkable
    if spewed by democrat party spokesmen ,old Austin hippies or a paranoid visiting assistant professor of history .

    Erik Loomis’s tortured Dekonstructionism is the kind of thinking that gives ivory towers a bad name.

    “While I’m not excusing such actions, they aren’t terrorism. They aren’t attacks upon government institutions, they are not designed to inspire terror in the American population. They are stupid acts of outrage over the destruction of the environment.”

    The need to paint Stack as right wing reminds me of somthing my grandpappy would say.
    “Hit dog will yelp”

  6. In his suicide note Stack rails against capitalism and America while quoting Karl Marx. This makes him right-wing?

    I think Mr. Loomis should find a better example for his rant about right-wing extremists.

  7. First off, communists are anti-government when it comes to governments that don’t support their views. Just look at Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong to name a few; all three led revolutions against goverments.

    And what is your idea of “taking right-wing terrorism seriously”, Mr. Loomis? Should the government use force of law to silence “right-wing” radio programs that speak out against government action (isn’t there something called the First Amendment forbidding that)? Should they arrest anyone who protests against government actions (what were your feelings when the left wing was calling for Bush’es assassination?) or who suggest that we are approaching the point where armed revolt is our only option because our government ignores our votes and our protests and continues to grow in power and authority far beyond what the Constitution allows (doesn’t said Constitution state that when government becomes a threat to the people’s freedom, it is the people’s right to dissolve such a government?) Wouldn’t such government action in fact vindicate the very people you claim are the threat, as such actions are the very thing they are warning us about?

    Ever ask yourself why some people are advocating these things? Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that our current government is following the Constitution that they all swore to uphold when they took office? The question that should be asked is “Who will take an overreaching government serioulsy?” because right now, I can promise you that that is a bigger threat than a few extremists.

    As for the boogeyman “militia” term that your side is so fond of throwing at anyone who holds views of the government you don’t like:

  8. Of course what Loomis and the rest of the totalitarian Left is worried about isn’t terrorism, it’s political dissent. They’d like to use incidents like this to shut up political opposition and shut down democracy. Shouting terrorism gives the left a fig leaf to cover their fascist tendencies, they can’t come right out for what they really want – a ban on free speech. “Democracy’s OK, ‘cept when it encourages racism or terrorism”, funny thing is, all opposition to the left encourages racism or terrorism in the minds of Leftists. To a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    Does Loomis see the connection between the Left’s constant harping on racism and the pandemic of black on white racist violence, with its TENS OF MILLIONS of victims since the ’60s ? Does he see the connection between the constant pumping of white-hating racism and the vast areas of America that are white no-go zones? It isn’t safe for whites to walk in large parts of most American cities, does his finely tuned sense of outrage over terrorism extend to this particular liberal-supported terrorist war-crime? Liberals saying things like “White people are the cancer of history” and being universally applauded by other Liberals for saying it has consequences, doesn’t it?

  9. Wow, I wonder what right-wing website picked this up. Keep it up y’all, this is great fodder for additional columns.

  10. This Stack fellow was obviously an avowed leftist, judging from teh manifesto he left behind. This, of course, does not excuse anyone on either side from glorifying him or his actions. I do feel that we have seen many more examples of left-wing terrorism than right-wing. The Unibomber, the attack on the Army Recruiting center in Arkansas, Weather Underground, Amy Bishop, the list goes on and on. Go to some of the protests from the last several years. I have witnessed those who proclaim to be there on the side of peace spitting on and assaulting others, just because they disagreed with them. You really don’t see that on the other side, as conservatives know that they are under a microscope, and any little thing they do will be broadcast as evidence of their violent ways, but left-wing travellers can take any action they care to.

  11. I really have to wonder about you idiots who allow yourselves to identify with either the right or the left. Neither Democrats nor Republicans give a fuck about you. They use your baseless patriotism to further fuck you in the ass.

    But as it stands right now, conservative right wingers are way more idiotic than the left.

  12. Oh, how we love to categorize people to try to understand them. There are no left-wingers. There are no right-wingers. There are no anarchists, libertarians, hippies, moderates, extremists or whatever. Even nihilists don’t exist. All these are just lazy, ready-made labels used to demonize and/or stereotype others so that our worlds get smaller and smaller as we find out that every ideology has its share of crap.

    Just actualize in yourselves that Stack and that other Pentagon guy (Bedell) were people who lost the game of life according to the opinion that thinks life is meaningful and violence is not.

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