In what Fox News is calling his first national TV interview since being elected a U.S. Senator, Scott Brown (R - MA) pointed to the public's frustration with Washington when he was asked about Joe Stack, the 53 year-old software engineer who on Thursday set his own house on fire, posted a rambling, hate-filled note on the Internet, and flew a single engine Piper Cherokee PA-28, loaded with excess fuel, into the Austin, Texas headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service, killing himself and one other, and injuring 13 people.
When Brown was asked about the attack by Fox News' Neil Cavuto, the Senator replied "Yes, of course it's extreme. You don't know anything about the individual. He could have had other issues. Certainly, no one likes paying taxes, obviously. But the way we're trying to deal with things, and have been in the past, at least until I got here, is there's such a logjam in Washington, and people want us to do better. They want us to help solve the problems that are affecting Americans in a very real way."
In the wake of Brown's interview, a growing number of Internet sites focusing on Stack and his political views have popped up, including a dozen Facebook Fan Pages. Among them, the Facebook page "The Philosophy of Joe Stack," which has attracted more than 1,700 members in the past 48 hours, and proclaims "after reading [Stack's] note, we can agree with and sympathise [sic] with Joe Stacks' thoughts."
Stack's "note" that the Facebook page endorses is a rambling six-page suicide letter/manifesto that Stack posted on his website prior to Thursday's air attack. The document is now available on-line at "The Smoking Gun."
Stack's suicide statement began: "If you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, "Why did this have to happen?"
Stack went on to echo the anti-taxation stance of the Tea Party movement, decrying " 'no taxation without representation'. . .These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a 'crackpot", traitor and worse.' "
Stack went on to attack the "unthinkable atrocities" committed by General Motors and other companies that had received corporate bailouts and wrote "I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at 'big brother' . . . I choose not to pretend that business as usual won't continue; I have just had enough."
Stack continued "violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."
He ended his suicide statement by writing: "Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well."
Following the airplane attack, Scott Brown who was ranked fourth among 11 potential GOP presidential contenders in a new Gallup poll, discussed the terrorist incident with Fox News' Cavuto. The exchange was:
CAVUTO: But, in all seriousness, Senator, this happens on a day we -- we have this crazy plane crash in Austin, Texas. And we have a guy who is just ranting at the system, ranting at the IRS, ranting at big government, the need for health care -- the -- not the need for unions getting special care, I mean, really crazy stuff. I would just be curious to your reaction to all that.
BROWN: Well, it's certainly tragic, and I feel for the families, obviously, that are being affected by it. And I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense, not only in my election but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated. They want transparency. They want their elected officials to be accountable and open and, you know, talk about the things that are affecting their daily lives. So, I'm not sure if there's a connection. I certainly hope not. But, you know, we need to do things better.
CAVUTO: You know, invariably, people are going to look at this type of incident, Senator, and say, well, that's where some of this populist rage gets you. Isn't that a bit extreme?
BROWN: Well, yes, of course it's extreme. You don't know anything about the individual. He could have had other issues. Certainly, no one likes paying taxes, obviously. But the way we're trying to deal with things, and have been in the past, at least until I got here, is there's such a logjam in Washington, and people want us to do better. They want us to help solve the problems that are affecting Americans in a very real way."
Meanwhile, on Facebook, the public frustration that Brown is describing, is evidenced in a flood of posts in support of Stack. Among them:
"Finally an American man took a stand against our tyrannical government that no longer follows the Constitution," wrote Emily Walters of Louisville, KY.
"I'm in agreement. i don't support terrorism, but i do recognize that his letter needs to be read by and at least considered by the masses, and if he didn't do something drastic to call attention to himself, noone [sic] would have ever read what he wrote," wrote James Cavalari, of Louisa, VA.
"They call this a terrorist attack!!!! I call it the wake up call. If I were a terrorist I would not bother the everyday working class American, . . .The Government is where I would go just like Mr. Stack did! . . . WTF people what more are you gonna swallow before ya wake up," wrote Facebook member Lori Hawk.
"It would be nice to see a journalist defend ;Stack's] action as 'revolutionary' instead of the act of a desperate lunatic. George Washington was at one time a terrorist, yet today, he is required reading for every school child in America. There's nothing more dangerous in this world than someone who feels they have nothing left to loser," wrote Facebook user Keith Curran.
The Austin attack and the political and public response comes in the midst of increasing concern about violence from the far right, highlighted in a report from the Department of Homeland Security issued last April, which warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise throughout the country.
In the report, entitled "Right Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," officials warned that the bad state of the U.S. economy including an extended economic downturn with real estate foreclosures, unemployment and an inability to obtain credit, along with the election of the country's first black president could foster an environment for right-wing extremists to recruit new members who may not have been previously supportive of their causes.
Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have been monitoring the situation, and are expected to release a report later this month that will show that the country now has "a record number of hate groups" and "a true explosion of anti-government and Patriot groups."
Speaking today from Alabama, Mark Potok of the SPLC, discussed with me the impact that public endorsements of extremist activity can have on triggering future potential Joe Stacks.
"We've witnessed the coarsening of public political debate, and the reality is that words have consequences. And although there may be a tiny number of people driven to violence, things like people bringing guns to presidential appearances or promoting the idea that it's 'time to water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants,' that kind of talk can have serious and tragic consequences," said Potok.
While the death toll from the Austin attack stands at two people, Joe Stack was arguably only 5,000 pounds of fertilizer away from becoming the next Tim McVeigh, the Oklahoma federal building bomber whose truck bomb attack claimed the lives of 168 people, injured more than 680, damaged or destroyed 324 nearby buildings, and caused $652 million worth of damage.
It will be seen what impact hate speech, calls for violent opposition to the government, moves for succession, and public support for extremists like Joe Stack will have, and whether such actions will, in fact, trigger more violence by radicals who hear the call to action.
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