Who was Joe Stack?
Issue #124 • July/August, 2010
You may have missed the story of Joe Stack, 53, a software engineer who on February 18 burned down his house, then flew his single-engine plane into a building that housed 198 IRS employees in Austin, Texas. He killed himself and an IRS manager, injured 13 other IRS agents, and burned out the building. It was in the news only briefly.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Stack’s actions did not appear to be part of a terrorist plot, and the mainstream media pretty much agreed that Stack was a lone crackpot. Stack had left a long “suicide note” on his online website, www.embeddedart.com, that attempted to explain his actions, but the FBI insisted the website be shut down immediately after the incident. I read Stack’s “rambling screed,” as many in the media characterized it, and I thought it was well written and coherent, not the words of a crackpot. So didn’t some online Facebook groups which sprung up spontaneously. They too were immediately shut down, reportedly by Facebook.
In a nutshell, Joe Stack was mad at Big Government and Big Business, who he accused of being in collusion to the detriment of small entrepreneur businessmen like himself. That’s an accurate assertion, according to Libertarians like me. We call it Crony Capitalism, a distortion of capitalism in which big business gets their paid-off politicians to pass laws that protect big businesses and penalize smaller businesses trying to compete against them. We’ve been speaking out against it for years.
So, who was Joe Stack and why did the FBI think what he had to say needed censoring? He wasn’t a Libertarian judging from his statements favoring health care reform, he wasn’t a Republican judging from his harsh comments about former President Bush and big business, and he wasn’t a Democrat judging from his excoriation of big government and unions. He seemed a mixture of all three.
Stack was especially critical of government’s bailouts of big businesses like GM, which he thought were merely payoffs to the friends of politicians, but above all he railed against the IRS, which he said: “. . . mercilessly ‘holds accountable’ its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand. The law ‘requires’ a signature at the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that’s not ‘duress’ then what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is.”
I think what bothered the FBI is that Joe Stack could not be characterized. He was not a “known” enemy of America such as a terrorist group, nor was he a member of a “suspect” domestic group such as a “right wing militia.” He was just Joe Stack, a disgruntled citizen who thought government was out of control. Worse, Joe Stack could articulate his grievances. His suicide note was full of powerful language that linked his death to his complaints.
Stack’s first paragraph asks the rhetorical question, “Why did this have to happen?” He answers with, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Later he says, “I remember reading about the stock market crash before the ‘great’ depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. 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 f–k up, the poor get to die for the mistakes . . . isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.”
Then later: “I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country . . . I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change.”
In the end, Stack says: “I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”
No wonder the FBI acted quickly to take down Joe Stack’s site. Powerful verbalization of his grievances followed by a call to violence.
Being a Libertarian, I do not advocate violence as a means to change government. In fact, history shows clearly that violent revolution, with the lone exception of the American Revolution of 1776, always leads to even worse government. Slow, determined peaceful reform, such as England pursued in the 18th and 19th centuries to throw off the Age of Monarchy, and such as Russia and China now pursue to throw off the Age of Communism, is the only answer to making government less corrupt.
But Joe Stack’s suicide note alerts us to what simmers just beneath the surface in America today. The general discontent with government, the perceived notion that bailouts are for the rich at the expense of the middle class and the future of our youth, the declining fortunes of small businesses and the tandem loss of jobs, the spontaneous rise of movements such as the Tea Partiers — these are the smoldering signs that an angry volcano is building. Trying to ban Joe Stack’s final words will only make this volcano louder. The Government needs a more rational response before an eruption occurs.