Joseph Stack boarded his Piper PA-28 Cherokee in Georgetown, Texas on Feb. 18 knowing he wouldn’t return.
The 53-year-old software engineer, sickened by what he perceived to be unfair treatment from the federal government, took matters into his own hands. He purposefully crashed his plane into an Austin building that contained Internal Revenue Service offices.
Before he embarked on his suicidal journey, burned down his wife's house. Fortunately, his wife wasn't home at the time.
What had boiled inside Stack for years, the notion that prosperity and the American dream were forever lost in a land of big government, corporate bailouts and a system that put the screws to the little guy, drove him over the edge.
Both Stack and an office worker named Vernon Hunter, a Vietnam veteran, were killed in the incident.
Conservative commentators have hailed Stack “a new American hero,” a David standing against the federal government’s Goliath. Grim portents indicate that Stack’s vendetta against the IRS could cause a backlash of copycat incidents is frightening.
Before he took to the skies, Stack posted a rambling note on the Internet describing his dissatisfaction and outrage.
The letter captures a frustrated diatribe of a man trying to get ahead, but thwarted at every turn by politicians, insurance companies and corporate decisions. If Stack had written this as a newspaper column, had he spoke publicly and attracted like-minded Americans pissed off at the plutocrats and powerful moneyed interests that are rewarded for failure while decent people work themselves to death, then he might have garnered sympathy. The little guy versus the mean ol’ government. It would have been a stirring moment, a time when the people have said enough is enough and brandished their pitchforks and torches and taken to Congress to reform their shenanigans.
But Stack shanghaied his own cause through violence. His wrath got the best of him and he went out a blazing cannon who murdered an innocent office worker.
“I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the ‘only answer’,” Stack wrote.
Like the Michael Douglas character in the 1993 movie “Falling Down,” Stack sees murder as the only way to express his frustrations and rails against greed, economic insecurity and a corrupt political system that favors the wealthy.
Despite Stack’s kamikaze attack on a federal agency, his manifesto resonates with the downtrodden and powerless plebs who feel victimized by a government warped by its own appetites and bolstered by partisan politics and corporate agendas.
Stack was batshit crazy at the end, describing his failed business ventures, the Catholic church and a government akin to Orwell’s “Big Brother.” There are thousands of malcontents out there who espouse similar rants. Most of them silently fret and fume. Fewer commit acts of domestic terrorism.
That’s really what Joseph Stack was: a low-rent Guy Fawkes seeking to bring down the government with cataclysmic violence that he thought would prod others into action.
Though what Stack did was barbarous, his plight is heartbreaking. If he wasn’t a roiling cauldron of unpredictability, I might have empathy for his misfortune.
Stack wrote that the 1986 tax reform act negatively impacted his career as a software engineer. He and a few friends spent time and money understanding the tax loopholes and exemptions as “the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church.”
“The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living. However, this is where I learned that there are two ‘interpretations’ for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the ret of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country,” Stack wrote.
Stack spent tens of thousands of dollars and a decade wrangling with the tax laws, and his retirement plans likewise suffered.
“It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie. It also made me realize, not only how naïve I had been, but also the incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, like and sinker, the crap about their ‘freedom’ and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them,” Stack wrote.
In the early 1990s, when the federal government closed Air Force bases in California, it caused an economic depression for the Los Angeles region, where Stack lived at the time. The dot-com bust of the late 1990s and terrorist attacks of 2001 further shook the economy.
When the government bailed out struggling corporations with taxpayer’s money, rewarding failure and incompetence, Stack had had enough. He moved to Austin, but struggled to find employment. He worked for lower rates, which he wrote were the result of corporate collusion to drive down prices and wages.
His letter also assails former President George Bush for proving the wealthy get away with far more than the average Americans who toil and work fruitlessly only to get robbed by burdensome taxes.
“Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough). In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws,” he wrote.
While the sane and rational view Stack as an angry man raging against the machine of inequity and plutocracy, the far right lionized him as some sort of folk hero, a Jesse James in a small aircraft taking the outlaw path against a corrupt government.
Conservative talk show host Jon Alvarez created a Facebook page honoring Stack, who he said made “a sacrifice to others who were having problems with the IRS.”
Facebook responded by pulling the page.
Tea Party Conservatives, upset with the current Democratic administration and Democrats in general, call Stack a communist because he quotes the “communist creed” in his manifesto.
Liberals referred to Stack as a right wing looney terrorist whose rant espouses anti-government sentiment.
Yet Stack may have been apolitical, or at least disgusted with all politicians. He referred to political representatives as “thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags.”
“While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say,” Stack wrote.
Stack was pissed off at the well connected, privileged few who didn’t suffer as he did. Angry at an America filled with shysters, conmen and bureaucrats, Stack snapped and justified his actions for murder as the first strike in a revolution.
I phoned in my friend’s radio show the day after the incident happened and we briefly talked about it. While my friend thought that Stack’s actions were wrong, he said the suicide note did have valid points and “made sense.” Then he said Stack tapped into some kind of discontent with the American people and “it only takes one person” to start a revolution.
One man sacrificing his life for his own warped cause borne out of frustration is not a revolution. Joe Stack shouldn’t be feared.
Others who see his act as symbolic and ascribe meaning and power to it, they should be feared, because they have their martyr. They have their battle cry against the government. They have a warrior of economic desperation and victim of the IRS.
Whether the Cult of Stack takes root in the Tea Party Patriots or the disaffected rabble remains to be seen. Hopefully, Joe Stack will be remembered not as a revolutionary beating the drum against the federal government's wretched excesses and flagrant abuses but as a tormented soul who chose to kill himself and others as a final, personal act of rebellion.