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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Getty Images

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.

Cullen wants to understand why Stack would do such a thing. Good luck with that. There is little in the way of original thinking in Stack’s polished, but hate-filled rants. You can find the same kind of self-pitying paranoia, persecution complex and weak rationalizations for violence in The Turner Diaries, Mein Kampf and the journals of the Unabomber.

On June 10, 2009, another angry man, James Von Brunn, entered the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., armed with an acidic hatred for Jews and Negroes and a .22 caliber rifle. Security guard Stephen T. Johns opened the door for the 88-year-old anti-Semite and racist gunned down Johns and fatally wounded him. Von Brunn was shot by other security guards and died of his wounds on Jan. 6 in a prison hospital.

The only difference between Stack and Von Brunn is that Von Brunn was a raving racist and Stack composed a lucid “manifesto” (or more accurately a lengthy suicide note). Both Stack and Von Brunn succeeded in killing black men, but Stack was a “nice” terrorist because he was anti-government and a pretty fair writer. Von Brunn was a “naughty” terrorist because he was a vicious anti-Semite, neo-Nazi and racist. I’m not seeing any real difference between the two of them.