As you probably know by now, a white software engineer crashed his plane into an office building in Austin and killed himself and at least one other person. David Neiwert has a probing article at Crooks-and-Liars,” with a video from Fox News that moves strongly away from calling this an “act of terrorism.” They describe the act as like someone who wildly attacks with a gun at their workplace. The Obama administration’s press secretary and the Department of Homeland Security are also saying it probably was not an act of terrorism. A newsperson at Fox concluded:
Our Homeland Security contacts telling us, this does not appear to be terrorism in any way that that word is conventionally understood. We understand from officials that this is a sole, isolated act.
Neiwert notes that
Well, this is true only if the conventional understanding of the word “terrorism” has now been narrowed down to mean only international terrorism and to preclude domestic terrorism altogether. Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism? You know, Timothy McVeigh used a “dangerous instrument” to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City. He too was angry at the federal government, and was converted to the belief that acts of violence was the only means possible to prevent the government from overwhelming our freedom and replacing it with tyranny.
He was also not brown or black. That seems to have something to do with the way these events are reported and described as “not terrorism” by media and government officials. Indeed, I see no one at the mainstream media outlets analyzing that the likely suicide attacker was white, or even much analysis of his note below.
The very long letter from the apparent suicide attacker was left by him on the web, and reads in part:
If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” …. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. ..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. . . . Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand.
A major thrust of his suicide note is an attack on taxation, and this is what the media has played up. This is similar to the anti-government motivation for the kind of domestic terrorism engaged in my Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City. Very few in the mainstream media have so far explored his strong critique of the business world:
Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies.
He continues with a discussion of his efforts as an engineer and rails against people losing their pensions to corrupt management executives, unions, and officials. After much economic difficulty, he moved to Austin, which gets a bad review:
So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work.
He then had more economic troubles, and blames the IRS for this problems:
I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes. . . . 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 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. . . . 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. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well. *The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.* *The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.* Joe Stack (1956-2010)
We get here a close look at the mind of a suicide attacker, and probably should read it closely. His rationale for violence is carefully presented. This event and its reporting have important racial and class angles.
There is also a major gender violence angle here. MSNBC reported some domestic dispute between the attacker and his wife before the incident, and he appears to have set to light his house on fire, and the fire department had to rescue his wife and daughter. Gender gets downplayed often in these cases. This man first terrorized his wife and daughter, then engaged in an act of domestic terrorism against the government. His wife and daughter are now homeless.
White anger and violence directed at the government is not usually reported as terrorism. White, heterosexual, Christian men infrequently get called out as such and generalizations developed on the basis of these demographics. If these recent incidents by white men had been committed by Muslim men or others of color it is quite likely those demographics would be foregrounded. @GuerrillaMama has put it eloquently (via Twitter):
Suppose two men committed separate acts of extremist murder in the United States within a month. Suppose the gunmen attacked a church and a national landmark, motivated by politics and religious prejudice, targeting a nationally controversial figure and innocent civilians. Suppose there was a history of attacks by similarly motivated men in America, ranging from individual shootings and bombings to an act of spectacular violence that destroyed a federal office building. Suppose two Muslim men had done this. Is there even a question that we would be using a particular term to describe this behavior? Might reporters and news anchors be terming these horrible acts, say, “terrorism”?
Still, Matt Yglesias cautions about an overreaction to this event:
But instead of complaining about the hypocrisy involved in not trying to whip people into a fit of terror and madness about this incident, I think it makes more sense to congratulate everyone on handling this in a calm and sensible manner. . . . Simply put, the odds of “death by disgruntled anti-tax activist flying an airplane into your office” are extremely small and it’s extremely difficult to think of cost-effective and efficacious methods of ensuring that this never happens again. Off the top of my head, this looks to me like a demonstration of the desirability of better mental health services in the United States, but that’s something that I would think was true one way or the other.
In my view, this is a good time for much careful reflection and action about the underlying, stressful, oppressive class, racial, gender conditions of this society. For example, the society’s structural conditions, mentioned in the suicide note, that sometimes play a role in driving people of any background to such extreme violence are also rarely examined in the mainstream media. One can and should examine these contextual conditions of suicide attackers closely without excusing such violence. They often tell us something about our societies. Clearly, the economic depression we are now in is likely part of his story. So, it seems to me, is the violent rhetoric of many in the “tea bag” movement and on white supremacist websites. This extremely violent talk and discussion probably makes violence seem “normal” to people like this suicide attacker. Why is there no mainstream media discussion of the broader racial and class and gender implications of this story, and the biased ways it is being handled?
UPDATE: MEMBER OFCONGRESS EMPATHIZES WITH WHITE DOMESTIC TERRORIST (VIA TPM)
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could “empathize” with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to “implode” other IRS offices, according to a witness. King’s comments weren’t recorded, but a staffer for Media Matters, who heard the comments, provided TPMmuckraker with an account. The staffer, who requested anonymity because she’s not a communications specialist, said that King, an extreme right-winger with a reputation for eyebrow-raising rhetoric, appeared as a surprise guest speaker on an immigration panel at the conservative conference.
We should note too that the only person this white domestic terrorist killed was a black veteran of Vietnam.
Excellent post, Joe.
Great blog. I am amazed: (1) how there is not much discussion via the media, (2) how anyone can fly into a building after 9/11, and (3) Tiger Woods dominated news reviews.
Thanks for the post. I was watching “liberal” msnbc at the time the story broke and was appalled at how quick they were to insist this was not a terrorist attack. Perhaps one could argue why the White House would do that for political reasons, but it was sad to see nonetheless. Imagine if the guy’s name had been Mohammed, as Bill Maher said on his show Friday night. The Tiger story, Olympics, etc., would have been buried compared to that. I also couldn’t help but think how this serves as a reminder that, contrary to the musings of Beck et. al at the CPAC conference last week, the solid majority of terrorist organizations and their activities come from the extreme right, NOT the left.