Austin Man’s IRS Plane Crash: Criminal Or Terrorism?


When a man fueled by rage against the U.S. government and its tax code crashes his airplane into a building housing offices of the Internal Revenue Service, is it a criminal act or an act of terrorism? That question is posed by the Associated Press, which notes that officials said Joseph Stack’s suicide flight in Austin was not terrorism. Others, including Muslims, fail to understand how Stack differs from foreign perpetrators of political violence who are routinely labeled terrorists. Stack’s motives for flying into a seven-story building after apparently setting his house on fire were becoming clear from a rambling manifesto on the Web in which he described a long-smoldering dispute with the IRS and a hatred of the government.

Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence firm. said Stack’s rant clearly matches the USA Patriot Act’s definition of terrorism: a criminal act that is intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo sees an isolated, criminal attack carried out by a lone individual. He said branding the crash as terrorism could have provoked unnecessary panic and prompted people erroneously to conclude that other attacks might be imminent. Ami Pedahzur, a professor of government at the University of Texas and author of the book “Suicide Terrorism,” said that while Stack’s actions might be viewed as a copycat version of 9/11 attacks, they fall short of terrorism.

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