Should We Call the IRS Attack Terrorism?

Joseph Stack was enraged by taxes and the government

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UPDATE, 9:42 a.m.: Glenn Greenwald has also addressed this topic at length, weighing in on the side of those seeing a double standard: "Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon. The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity."

UPDATE, 9:55 a.m.: John Hinderaker at Power Line reminds readers that "for what it's worth, that document [the suicide note] is left wing, not right wing." His other contribution: Stack's crash may or may not have been an act of terrorism, "but I'm pretty sure it was an act of lunacy." He predicts the event will be used to score political points.

"Was it terrorism?" Early statements said it was not, but as details about Joseph Stack's intentional crash of a plane into an Austin IRS building emerged, the question has ignited debate. Commentators are focused on whether the discovery of an anti-government rant and suicide note allegedly from Stack makes his act qualify as terrorism. Emily Holleman, handling Salon's continuous coverage yesterday, brought this up early yesterday afternoon: "One theme of today's coverage seems to be 'Thank God it's not terrorism!' But what people really seem to mean by that is 'Thank God it's not the Muslims!'" She pointed to a tweet by Niall Stanage making the same point, sardonically echoed by liberal Matt Yglesias as well: "Politically motivated violence undertaken by non-Muslims isn't terrorism, everyone knows that!"

On the whole, left-leaning bloggers seem more inclined to label the act terrorism. Some of them have linked Stack's message to Tea Party rhetoric. Glenn Beck, at least, rejects this connection: "We have no idea what this man's ideology is.  He could be from the left, he hates capitalism."

  • Well, It Was Political, points out The Guardian's Michael Tomasky. "Clearly, he intended this act to spark political action on the part of others ... Does that make him a terrorist? It's an interesting question. Was he trying to create terror among the citizenry? We don't know yet."
  • That Seems Good Enough for Most Liberals, points out James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. "But calling anyone who both has a political beef and goes off violently a 'terrorist' seems to render it a word with no special meaning. Most accepted definitions of the term include some sort of action-oriented objective. Specifically, the instilling of fear in the general public in hopes that it leads to political change."
  • Rightly So  "There is not a credible definition of terrorism that does not include the act of flying a plane into a building filled with civilians as a political statement," argues Spencer Ackerman, who doesn't like how "terrorist" and "al-Qaeda" have been "conflated" recently. Updating his argument, he adds that Stack's motives seemed to have been "to spread fear, compel a governmental overreaction and accordingly radicalize the political behavior of his seemingly-unaware contemporaries. That is terrorism, pure and simple."
  • No Joke  David Neiwert at Crooks and Liars disputes the idea the attack was unlike "conventionally understood" terrorism: "Well, this is true only if the conventional understanding of the word "terrorism" has now been narrowed down to mean only international terrorism and to preclude domestic terrorism altogether." He points to the example of Timothy McVeigh: "Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism?"
  • The Official Definition  At Time, Michael Scherer admits that terrorism is "tricky ... to define in public discourse"--do anti-fur animal rights activists count? He looks at the FBI's definition of "domestic terrorism" and concludes that Joseph Stack's act qualifies.
  • Something to Keep in Mind  "Make no mistake, Joe Stack is a terrorist," begins Stephen Webster, blogging at True/Slant.
But here's what the media won't be able to tackle without disrupting their preconceived narrative: Joe Stack was also a populist, self-fashioned in the vein of America's first terrorist John Smith, who murdered and terrorized slavery supporters and helped lead a violent uprising in 1823. Today, Smith is known as a martyr. Stack will not be so fortunate ...
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