Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joseph Andrew Stack: A Composite of McVeigh, Ayers, Kaczynski and Atta

A sad day today in Austin and America at large, as the country faced another terrorist attack. Like the last one by Nidal Malik Hasan, this one took place in the state of Texas.

Joseph Andrew Stack, a man from nearby San Marcos who worked for avionics technology company DAC International (via Google cache; they took him off already) as a software engineer, flew a small plane into the IRS building in Austin. As of 3:14 p.m. Central Time 1 man is missing and 2 people are injured (the pilot aside).

He posted a suicide note/manifesto online a few days ago that has since been picked up by news stations.

I fully expect people (though I hope I'll be pleasantly surprised to the contrary) like Rush Limbaugh to call this a leftist attack on America (based on the quoting of the communist motto juxtaposed with a similar motto that makes capitalism look bad), and I also fully expect people on the left to call this a tea party/rightist induced attack on America, based on the fact that the IRS building was targeted.

A more reasonable assessment would note that the terrorist, Joseph Andrew Stack, can probably best be described as a composite of all four major categories of American terrorism in the last 50 or so years.

As I see it, American terrorist attacks can be seen as emanating from one of four ideologies: far-left, far-right, 'mad scientist'/lone nutjob and Islamist.

Some may disagree with these categories. For instance, they may want to split far-left into eco-terrorist and anarchist/communist (possibly splitting those two as well), far-right into white supremacist and anti-government/anti-tax/militia and merge abortion and such terrorism with the Islamist category to a new religious category, arguing perhaps that it's bigoted/prejudiced to have Islamist in its own category. People also might wonder about the 'mad scientist'/lone nutjob category. However, I think these are an apt categorization of American terrorism. Here's an explanation of each category, some notable attacks in each category, and how Joseph Stack shows elements of the category.


One might have the best case to make in regards to splitting far-left terrorism
between eco-terrorism and communist/anarchist terrorism, but I would still put them under the same umbrella.

They hold leftist/liberationist/anti-war/communal/communist/ecology-oriented views, they are largely educated and activity often starts among students; encouraged, perhaps by overly radical professors, such as, perhaps, Herbert Marcuse and more recently Peter Singer. Perhaps most importantly, unlike other categories, their attacks are/were often directed at property and tried to avoid killing people, with the Weather Underground often warning of the impending detonation several minutes ahead of time and the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front usually striking when nobody is in the area. In keeping with the communal spirit, they seem to rarely act alone. They do often have blood on their hands, though.

In addition to the Weather Underground, the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, one might include the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Black Liberation Army in these categories. William Ayers of the Weather Underground is probably the best-known and pretty emblematic. Today a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he started as a student, set bombs without killing anybody, and rose to prominence after his relatively small association with Barack Obama became an issue in the presidential campaign of 2008.

Some statements in Stack's manifesto are indicative of such an ideology:

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. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.
The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government
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.


I think there's less of a case for splitting this category into white supremacist and militia/anti-tax/anti-government, and I think it also makes sense to leave what may be seen as Christianity-inspired terrorism in this category.

The reason is that the white supremacists and militia guys are really hard to tell apart, and are in many ways one and the same. Additionally, while some may argue against putting anti-abortion terrorists in that same category, the fact is that in most cases, they are also one and the same. The first anti-abortion terrorist, Michael F. Griffin, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The most notorious anti-abortion terrorist, Eric Rudolph, who remained a fugitive in the woods of North Carolina for quite a few years, was a member of the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. So in general (even those who haven't been members of white supremacist groups), anti-abortion terrorists fit in pretty well with this category.

Other than the Klan and the Christian Identity movement, various militia groups and some elements of the tea party movement fit in here. Timothy McVeigh, the only man to be put to death by the federal government for terrorism, was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. A semi-active Ku Klux Klan member who also surfaced in the militia/anti-government movement of the 1990s, for instance demonstrating during the David Koresh standoff in Waco, he also wrote many anti-tax letters to the editor. His target was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, and he killed 168 people, more than any other attack until September 11.

Joseph Stack's manifesto has elements of the tea party ideology, but the most important factor from this category is that he hit an IRS building, the government agency perhaps most despised by the far-right (either that or the ATF, but I don't think the ATF still exists).

'Mad Scientist'/Lone Nutjob

This category involves the generally quite intelligent, 'misunderstood', lone male with a background in the sciences of some sort, who just go berzerk. There is perhaps a fine line between this category and serial killer, but there is usually something political.

Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, is probably the best specimen of this category. Generally acknowledged to have been an absolutely brilliant mathematician, after getting a Ph.D., life led him to live in the middle of nowhere in Montana, mailing letter bombs to scientists and technological people.
The Virginia Tech shooter and the Anthrax letter guy also fall into this category, as do cyberterrorists.

As a software engineer who seems to have acted alone and sounds 'misunderstood' in his manifesto, Joseph Andrew Stack fits this category to some extent as well.


Some would have you believe that this last category is the only terrorism. It's not, but it does warrant a category of its own. Steeped in fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic texts, often with an (Islamic) nationalist component, these terrorists may also be educated, but their religious-oriented/driven cause is what distinguishes them, whether it is restoring the caliphate, defeating the or wiping Israel off the map.

Mohammed Atta, though his actions as the lead September 11 hijacker are far better known than any of the other categories, is quite possibly less well known than all of the other attackers.

Other than his blanket condemnation of the American system, Stack (who seems to be an entirely non-religious man) mainly drew from Atta in the use of a plane to crash into a building as a weapon.

So, to make a very long story short, I would not categorize this man's attack as fitting neatly into any category.

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