It’s been a while, but recent events have compelled me to post. I wrote a little while ago about the potential for violence when political pundits and parties abrogate their responsibility to monitor and control their message. Sadly, I was proven somewhat prescient (not that it takes much to guess the inevitable). As most have heard by now, an idiot crashed his plane into an IRS building in Austin, TX, ultimately killing Vietnam veteran and IRS employee Vernon Hunter as well as his own loathsome self. This idiot’s name was Joe Stack.
Not only did Stack perpetrate one of the grandest spectacle homicides in recent memory, but he left us a note by which to remember him. If you do decide to go down the rabbit hole, make sure to bring along this travel guide to help point out the landmarks in the fantasy land of delusion in which Stack lived. It’s a pretty convoluted world where a man who’s money and livelihood were “stolen” by the government still somehow managed to own a $200,000 house and private plane. Yeah, he was living hand-to-mouth.
To me, the really interesting part of this tragedy is the contrast in the public reaction when compared with the Oklahoma City Bombing. Both were carried out by disturbed domestic terrorists fed up with the government. But Stack seems to have received much more support from the general public than McVeigh. McVeigh was generally reviled by everyone but a few fringe elements in the anti-government and white supremacy movement. Stack, on the other hand, has his own facebook fan page. To be fair, technological advances have eased the barriers of entry to getting your opinion heard on a grand scale, no matter how marginalized that opinion may be.
At the same time, social media websites like facebook aren’t anonymous, generally speaking. When you register your support for something, you’re registering your support for the facebook-going public to see. Fully aware of this and at last count, 2,293 people have registered their support for “The philosophy of Joe Stack”. 2,293 people have taken an affirmative stance in support of the philosophical arguments espoused by a terrorist. That truly blows my mind.
In reading through the posts and comments of Joe Stack’s supporters, the common argument is that they support his philosophy and anti-tax stand, but not his methods. Stack’s philosophy, as typed by his own hand, stated:
“[V]iolence not only is the answer, it is the only answer”
That type of rationale makes it hard for me to accept the defensive arguments of his supporters without a grain of salt. Further, I would have loved to see public reaction to a Muslim stating they did not agree with the methods of the 9/11 terrorists, but agreed with their anger against the United States. In my opinion, these statements of support are delusional and yet another display by a movement taking its cues from irresponsible leaders ultimately responsible for this tragedy.
To understand my rationale, you need to understand important concepts underlying the psychological preparation needed to kill someone. During my time in the US Army, I read On Killing by LTC Dave Grossman. LTC Grossman’s book is a fascinating analysis of the situational and psychological factors that play into a human being’s ability to kill another human being. One of those factors is dehumanizing the enemy. In recent conflicts, the military has accomplished this through the use of human-shaped target silhouettes and derogatory nicknames. It’s the latter that draws my attention.
The current partisan political discourse, both within the government and without, invites just the type of dehumanization needed to overcome inherent limits on a human being’s ability to kill. When last I wrote on this topic, I presented Jim David Adkisson as an example of this phenomenon. Adkisson murdered two members of a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville because he hated Democrats, liberals, African-Americans, and homosexuals. Adkisson’s personal library contained writings from such luminaries as Mike Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly.
Since Adkisson’s rampage, the partisan divide has only become more strained and, not unsurprisingly, we now have another example of this phenomenon in the form of Joe Stack. To the pundits and politicians who gleefully vilify the opposition, you need to take a hard look at what you are doing and saying. Focus your efforts on the issue, not the person. I realize it probably helps you sleep at night to think you can disassociate yourself from the actions of someone you have influenced. I also realize it is unlikely you understand the psychological rationale required to kill a person as most of you never served in any branch of the military. While you can deny your culpability in any deaths that result from your influence, the simple fact is that you are playing a necessary role in the dehumanization of an innocent person.
Simply consider this: if Joe Stack had viewed the IRS as an organization of hard-working human beings with the unfortunate job of collecting taxes rather than as a leviathan evil responsible for his sorry lot in life, Vernon Hunter would likely still be alive today.