Saturday, February 20, 2010

Semantics

I have to admit that I have been fascinated by the fall-out surrounding Joe Stack's suicide attack on an IRS office in Texas. Was he just profoundly disturbed man, disgruntled by his dealings with the tax people? A patriot? Or, as some of my fellow liberals would have it, a terrorist? After reading this post written by Dan Turner for the "Opinion L.A." section of the Los Angeles Times, I'm still not sure.

Turner, however, thinks he's a terrorist, based on what I consider a rather lame exercise in dictionary definition gathering. He then makes a rather stunning leap in logic:

Stack, one could argue, wasn't a terrorist, because his cause appears to have been personal rather than political. His Web rant never fully explains his beef with the IRS, but it's clear that he was a very angry man who felt he had been screwed by the powers that be and aimed to retaliate.

Yet it's also striking how much his rhetoric resembles that of a very powerful political movement in the United States: the "tea party" crew. He portrays himself as a hardworking engineer beaten down by an overreaching government "full of hypocrites from top to bottom." He's mad at the government's failure to follow the principles of the Founding Fathers, at the federal stimulus that bailed out rich bankers but not the likes of him, and at the failure of politicians to represent his views. The one discordant note from what otherwise sounds like a symphony of Palinism is his complaint about the healthcare system; unlike movement conservatives, he appears to be angry about the failure of reform.


Mr. Turner then quotes from Mr. Stack's "Manifesto" (which was captured and can be found here) in support of his thesis.

"I know I'm hardly the first one to decide I've 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 many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change... I can only hope that the numbers get too big to be whitewashed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less."

Can anybody doubt, on reading these words, that Stack intended to use violence to advance a political cause, or that he hoped to inspire others by example?


I wasn't convinced by the cherry-picking, so I called an old friend of mine who is far more knowledgeable than I am on federal statutes. He assured me that as the statute is written Mr. Stack probably would not have been charged with terrorism and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay (or a military brig in the U.S.) had he survived the plane crash. And then he asked me a crucial question: "What does it matter?"

Indeed, what does it matter? I had wanted the label applied because I wanted Stack's last act equated to the last acts of the 9/11 murderers. Why? Because it would mean that white conservatives can be just as dangerous as brown Muslim jihadists. But that's just as poor a use of language as the tea partiers' calling President Obama a fascist communist Nazi.

I still don't know whether or not Mr. Stack was a terrorist. I do know, however, that his last action was made easier for him to consider because of the reckless use of language which the far right has used for years. Sometimes the target of that language is a doctor who performs abortions. Sometimes it's the federal and/or state government. Sometimes it's a university. When people are urged to carry guns to political meetings as a political statement, the likelihood of someone actually getting shot increases.

I'm getting too old for this kind of dangerous rhetoric from both sides of the spectrum.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Terry C, NJ said...

He's a terrorist.

The only difference between him, McVeigh and Nichols and the 9-11 hijackers is that Stack didn't kill as many people as he would have liked to.

Leave it to the trash on Faux Noise to try to make him a hero.

12:54 PM  

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