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Of Terror, Terrorism & Terrorists

Updated on September 16, 2010

Joseph Stack : Terrorist or Just a Criminal?

Just in case you missed it, this last week, a 53-year-old Texas software engineer known to have had a long-running grievance against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finally decided that he had simply had enough.

Joseph Stack penned a multi-page anti-government manifesto dripping with venomous diatribe and premeditation to commit mass murder against IRS officials he affectionately referred to as “thugs and plunderers,” filled up the tank of his small air plane and then flew it into an office building housing, you guessed it, IRS employees, killing himself and one IRS staffer and injuring about three others.

After noting that the crash appeared to be “an intentional act,” the Austin Police Chief, Art Acevedo, reportedly stated that he preferred to describe it as "a criminal act by a lone individual."

As typical, an army of family, friends and other acquaintances, including former band mates, took turns expressing shock and disbelief that this loving, quiet, “not at all brooding or taciturn” all-American husband and father would “harm anyone.”

The mainstream media outlets joined the chorus. The reporting of this incident was unabashedly slanted. Stack was presented by some as a misunderstood, aggrieved victim who had been pushed to the brink by an overzealous, over-reaching arm of big government. He was roundly and generously humanized in these settings.

But it was, to say the least, surreal and annoyingly conspiratorial. The terms terror, terrorist and terrorism were sparingly, even rarely, used to reference an act that, I believed, was brazen, calculated, and primed to extract as much shock, awe and destruction as possible.

Webster’s defines ter·ror·ism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica sees it as “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.”

The point is that, in Stack’s case, there did not seem to have been any attempt to untangle the labyrinths of his life; his background, upbringing or affiliations; as would have instantaneously and certainly been the case had he been a Mustapha Abubakar or Hassan Mohammed.

Which then evokes the question regarding how, as a society, we can disavow the destructive symbols, images, and stereotypes that either serve to reinforce or exacerbate existing divisions in our polity or even engender new ones.

Could it truly be said that the presentation of Stack’s action(s) did not benefit from the tacit privileges of being white male in America?

Disturbed as Stack, McVeigh (Oklahoma City), Harris & Klebold (Columbine), Brunn (WashingtonHolocaustMuseum) obviously were, isn’t it a fact that every single white male in America does not have to labor under the burden of their deranged proclivities? That unlike the rest of us, they have the privilege of being accepted or evaluated as individuals and the rest of their kind truly do not have to be pre-judged or scrutinized merely on account of their misdeeds.


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