Is it terrorism?
That’s immediately the discussion that’s forming around this situation in Austin. (Which is different from the first question I asked, which is, “Why does Austin and the area around it attract so much hellacious, random violence? The Ft. Hood shootings weren’t that long ago, you know.”) My first inclination was to say no. Perhaps it was the combination of Austin with a random dude angry at the world acting out a personal grudge—my mind went to the Ft. Hood shootings and to the Charles Whitman shooting. In fact, this is highly reminiscent of the Whitman shooting. Whitman was boiling with frustration and rage and he aimed it at an institution he likely blamed for his troubles. Whitman killed his wife and mother before he went on his rampage, and Stack burned down his house (but thankfully spared his family). So that’s where my mind went, and thus I wasn’t inclined to see this as a terrorist incident.
Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.
Terrorism is all about intent, in other words. And reading the guy’s suicide note he posted online, it’s clear that he intended this to be an inspiration to others. However, his political ideology is a little hard to figure. Most anti-tax nuts come from the right, of course, but as someone from Texas I can assure you that we manage to breed all sorts of wide-eyed political lunatics, and they often have a real mish-mash of ideological beliefs . It is a state with a functioning, powerful Libertarian party, after all. That’s why we gave you both Ross Perot and Ron Paul. If I met someone there who claimed to be an anti-tax anarchist communist, I wouldn’t bat an eye. There’s just a high tolerance for weirdos in Texas. It’s both one of its charms and one of its drawbacks.
Stack’s beef with the IRS seems to have developed from personal problems stemming from possible tax evasion on his part. But it appears to have turned into a full-blown ideological stance, and again, it’s clear that he hopes others who share his ideological stance—and believe me, there are a lot of crazy right wing nuts in the area who do, and I have no doubt Stack was aware of this—will act on his wishes. This is what I mean by a mish-mash. Most of his ranting seems very left wing, but if you’re living in central Texas and you do something like this, you’re sending a signal to right wing nuts, and you know it.
And on that basis, I have to conclude that this was in fact a terrorist attack, even if there was no criminal conspiracy (and it looks like there wasn’t). I wish I could say with certainty that the whole world, including the right wing nuts, will not look to Stack as a hero and an inspiration, but I can’t. Unfortunately, he performed this deed in a part of the country that’s thick with crazy conspiracy theorists, militia types, and extreme right wing nuts. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I’ll bet Alex Jones has a conspiracy theory about how the government is covering this up somehow and Stack was innocent or something like that by tomorrow. People like this go beyond thinking the government mishandled the David Koresh situation and go straight into acting like Koresh was some kind of hero. They lionize Randy Weaver, who to my mind was a nasty piece of work who deliberately provoked a confrontation with the government that got his wife and son killed. The Oklahoma federal building bombing was orchestrated on the anniversary of the Waco shootings, if you’ll recall. So while Stack may prove to be unaligned with any radical groups, he was sending a signal. And unfortunately, it’s a signal they want to hear. So yes, it was terrorism. And even if the President won’t call it that, I’m sure the FBI is going to be monitoring how militant right wing groups react to this attack very carefully.