The Austin Plane Crash: White Man’s Anger, Black Man’s Death

No need to understand Joe Stack. He was a killer.

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So let me see if I have this straight. Joseph Stack, an engineer and anti-tax activist gets good and mad, burns his house to the ground, jumps into his private plane, flies it into The Echelon building housing federal offices in Austin, killing Vernon Hunter, a 67-year-old IRS worker and injuring 13 more. This act of terrorism has some circles making Stack an ordinary guy who was fed up and pushed back like a patriot.

If his name wasn’t Joe Stack, but “Mohammad el-Akbar,” would he still be considered an angry, white man instead of a bloodthirsty terrorist waging jihad against the infidels? We should know by now how differently the narrative of this story would play out.

The curious thing about this particular episode of extremist rage is why so many people want to sift not through the wreckage of the building, but through Stack’s manifesto/suicide note as if the mysteries of the Dead Sea scrolls and the Shroud of Turin are to be found by parsing every line.

Dave Cullen, author of the book Columbine, writing in Slate, marvels at Stack’s lucidity and poised narrative, “Many of Stack’s passages were practically lifted right out of the diatribes of Eric Harris, the Columbine mastermind. Yet while the notes are the same, the tune is not. Harris was a textbook psychopath, and Stack doesn’t read that way at all. Stack has more empathy, less callousness and none of the vicious desire to torment others for enjoyment. There are echoes of Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui here, but Stack forms coherent thoughts and speaks rationally. He gives no indication of insanity.”

I’ve read Stack’s screed on how the IRS done him wrong, and I’m less impressed than Cullen. Stack was an older and more accomplished man than Harris or Seung-Hui. It doesn’t mean he was any less mentally unbalanced. Maybe he was just a higher-functioning kind of crazy man.