When analyzing a terrorist attack, it is useful, though unpopular, to separate the criminal’s actions from his motives. Most people who perform violent actions are not crazy or have irrational beliefs like “hating our freedom”. Osama bin Laden’s actions were horrendous and unforgivable, but his stated reasons for hating America were rational enough: our support of the Israeli attacks against Palestinians, our basing American troops in Saudi Arabia and other so-called offenses. Had we not been doing these things, the attacks very likely would never have come about. Incidentally, we are still following the same path, making future attacks likely.
On February 18 of this year, we had a domestic terrorist attack in Texas, where a small plane was crashed into an IRS office. And like many before him, Andrew Joseph “Joe” Stack left a “manifesto” outlining his grievances. Again, while there is no justification for his violent actions, this does not detract from the fact that Stack had legitimate concerns that went unheeded. For the course of this article, I will go through his concerns. Many are not easily verifiable, and I urge readers to be aware that while there is no reason to doubt his account, there’s no guarantee his view is completely accurate.
Stack’s final words sum up his entire position: “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.” But don’t be fooled; he was not some left-wing anti-corporate nutcase. Joe Stack tried as hard as anyone to achieve the American Dream, but found that for some of us, the system overrules the best of attempts.
He first learned about the struggles of the poor in college, where his “neighbor was an elderly retired woman … who was the widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union .. raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on.” The old woman was “eating cat food” for nutrition, making his peanut butter and ramen look more luxurious.
After college, with the help of some of the best tax lawyers, Stack pursued tax exemptions in the same manner that big business and the churches do. It backfired. “That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0.” Thanks to “the sleazy executives of Arthur Andersen … and an equally sleazy New York Senator (Patrick Moynihan), we saw the passage of 1986 tax reform act with its section 1706.” In short, this amendment made it so engineers, designers, drafters, computer programmers and systems analysts could not bill clients for various services, making them “non-citizen slaves”, to use Stack’s term.
The IRS told Stack “they weren’t going to enforce that provision”, but they did. And when the economy of early 90s Los Angeles took a dive, not even his 100-hour workweeks could save him. Not being able to pass the costs on to his clients, or getting audited if he did, left him in a career that could not prosper.
For the third decade in a row, financial hardship hit. When 9/11 struck, Stack could not affordably get access to his customers because airports were closed and San Francisco was deemed a “special” facility. After this was over, “the Government came to the aid of the airlines with billions of our tax dollars” but did nothing to aid or compensate those who suffered from lose of air travel.
Moving to Austin to avoid the problems of California, Stack found a new problem keeping him from independently earning a living: “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 he was forced to cash out the last of his retirement and IRA. The sad truth is that the “free market” does not favor the self-employed or the small business, but only the corporations who get ahead with help from government subsidies.
Stack turned to a CPA, thinking that professional assistance would cover his backside. However, the accountant neglected to inventory almost $13,000 of Stack’s wife’s income, and when an audit came, this was a serious issue. Of course, the CPA was not found to be at fault, and his “assistance” proved not only worthless, but counterproductive. This may have been the last straw.
Turning to finance and politics in general, Stack believed the government’s answer to financial crisis is to rely on the middle class to bail out the wealthy. Once upon a time, “wealthy bankers and businessmen [were] jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything” but “now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.” He is referring, of course, to the “too big too fail” bank bailouts.
“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities … and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, 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.”
Stack found the solution to be more violence, not government. “I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say.” He felt that “by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change.” Why? Because nothing “changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough).” In conclusion, “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.”
I want very much for Joe Stack to be wrong on this point; I believe that the government can make a difference if we give them the pressure they need to find the political will. He is, of course, not entirely wrong: it is the shock of tragedy that compels people — both politicians and not — to make big decisions. But we cannot justify violence against innocent people if the ends can be reached peacefully. Together, we must all prove Stack wrong; we must correct our mistakes and move America forward without tragedy to guide us.