This past Wednesday, an insane man flew an airplane into a building in Austin, TX. He intended to destroy the local offices of the IRS. He intended the crash to be bloody, terrifying, and attention getting. He intended his act to be "propaganda of the deed". He left us his words, which clearly state that his attack was both the result of his own failures in life and his deep-seated desire to alter the American political system -- or American society as a whole. These are the facts, and they are undisputed.
Yet, according to the AP, the White House (via Robert Gibbs) feels that this "doesn't appear" to be terrorism, while an FAA spokesman labeled it a "criminal act", Austin Police Chief Acevedo is quoted as saying ""This was a criminal act by a lone individual". My question -- can't it be both? Terrorism is a form of politically, socially, or religiously motivated murder; and murder is a crime - yet terrorism is a specific form of crime. It seems clear, to those who look closely, that Joe Stack has committed an act of terror. Before we go further -- I have read the alleged suicide note of Joe Stack, the Austin Suicide Pilot, and here is the most relevant section:
The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government. 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...
I know I'm hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn't limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at "big brother" while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won't continue; I have just had enough.
Sound familiar? It should. With very few tweaks to this piece of writing, this could very easily fit a communique from any self-starter terrorist, or AQ's media wing. While a majority of the note waxes poetic from 1990's Patriot Movement language to that of the Weather Underground, the motivation for the impact of Stack's actions match easily with that of any other terrorist actor. Separate the strategy from the tactic for a second here -- and it seems undeniable that this was as much an act of terror as Maj. Nidal Hassan, or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
So why are we not calling it "Terrorism"? Is it the administrations fear of our skittishness? This debate goes beyond whether terrorism is criminal or an act of war -- it seems to be centered on who commits it. My only rational assumption is that the thought process looks like this: Joe Stack appears to have acted alone, doesn't speak Arabic, and is not connected to any transnational group -- so he can't be a terrorist? In a rapidly changing security environment, where, as Jason Burke pointed out, "you are a member of AQ if you say you are", we must broaden our descriptions of what terrorism is or isn't -- not shrink them to apply to only a few.
Perhaps we should take Burke's thought further -- and perhaps this is absurd, but I believe that you are a terrorist if you act like one. Joe Stack sought to kill many for a political and social purpose-- so many that the world would pay attention to his demands. In his own words:
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.
It may be an uncomfortable truth, or an inconvenient one, but while Joe Stack and AQ may believe radically different things, they seek to employ the same tactics -- and for the same purposes.
By playing semantics with this, the Obama Administration does a great disservice to Counter-Terrorism professionals everywhere. Counter-Terrorism does not mean Counter-Islamic Extremists, and should we continue to redefine it as such, more Joe Stacks will slip through the cracks -- and hit their targets. Call it what it is, commit the resources needed, and combat this form of terrorism with all others. It is time for the Obama Administration to play open kimono with the American people, and fight terrorism everywhere - not just in Marjah, Rahmadi, and Guantanamo.