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Terrorism in Texas: Why the Austin Plane Crash Is an Act of Terror

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Just to be clear, when Joseph Andrew Stack flew his single-engine Piper aircraft into a building housing the offices of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Austin, Texas on February 18, he committed an act of terrorism -- plain and simple.

A reading of Stack's five single-spaced pages of ranting against the federal government, especially the IRS, leaves no other conclusion. As he wrote:

Nothing changes unless there is a body count ...

But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure [sic] nothing will change ...

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 ...

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

Initially, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declared that the incident was not an act of terrorism -- a sentiment echoed by law enforcement and homeland security officials as well.

Gibbs has since backed off his statement. But in doing so, according to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, Gibbs added that his earlier statement was made in the context that the plane attack was not a "foreign-based al-Qaeda-type terrorism."

The ignorance of Gibbs is a reminder that even people at the highest levels of government would benefit from a refresher course on terrorism.

In the United States, the official definition of terrorism is codified by law. Pursuant to 22 USC § 2656f(d)(2), terrorism is "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

As this definition indicates, there are five elements to any act of terrorism. A simple examination of the Austin crash clearly shows that all five elements were met in this incident.

  1. Did the incident involve violence? Obviously.
  2. Was the perpetrator a subnational or non-state actor? No doubt.
  3. Was the target a noncombatant target? Absolutely.
  4. Was the attack premeditated? Yes, although you have to read Stack's note to be sure of this.
  5. Was the crash politically motivated? I can't see how, after reading his note, one can conclude anything other than this attack had a political objective.

Memo to all government officials, just because the perpetrator of an act of violence is not a foreigner or affiliated with al Qaeda, or just because he is a disgruntled person who committed suicide in an isolated attack, does not mean that terrorism can be automatically ruled out.

Let's start putting our biases aside when it comes to homeland security. If it meets all five elements of the legal definition of terrorism, then it's terrorism -- plain and simple.