Monday, February 22, 2010

What's a "terrorist" again?

Echelon Building 1, Austin, Texas
The incident last week which occurred in Austin, Texas, reveals once again, the hypocrisy and discomfort of the right-wing in this country around the term "terrorist."

At issue is the act of a frustrated software engineer, Joseph Stack, who intentionally flew his private Piper Cherokee PA-28 Dakota airplane into a building in Austin, Texas, where the Internal Revenue Service kept offices.  Besides Stack (who was killed in the crash), several people were injured, and Vernon Hunter, a Vietnam Veteran and an IRS employee died in the crash.  You can read about the incident here.

Immediately, upon discovery that the perpetrator was a disgruntled, white, conservative male who had posted an anti-government screed on a website, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets fell all over themselves trying to explain how this was a "lone criminal act" and not an act of "domestic terrorism."  Of course, their arguments along this vein are absurdly nuanced and meaningless.  More of the same from the people who could go on for hours about how Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached, or how the Iraq invasion was justified.  Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But rather than deconstruct the various arguments that right-wingers put forth to justify not using the term "terrorism" to describe the incident, I think it is more illuminating to speculate on why they would do so.  

Right-wing politicians always find it useful to have enemies to which they can point and say, "Vote for me so I can protect you from them."  And so, it is in their interest to keep the "terrorist" designation as narrowly defined as possible.  Specifically, they want to apply the term strictly to Muslims from the Middle East or Africa.

Because, if the right-wing base of the Republican party hears the term "terrorist" applied to people like Joseph Stack or James Von Brunn, or Jim D. Adkisson, or Scott Roeder --well, they might get confused about who is the "enemy."   You see, although these men were all killers motivated by politics, they were not Muslims.  They were white, conservative men angry with the United States government.  And, as far as right-wingers are concerned, white, conservatives angry with the government are Good People TM.  Even patriotic.  Check what Joseph Stack's daughter, Samantha Bell, had to say about her father:  "I think too many people lay around and wait for things to happen. But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice, then nothing will ever be accomplished."

Joe Stack:  one man's patriot is another man's terrorist
Apparently "speak[ing] up on behalf of injustice" means flying an airplane into a building and killing people who are not in anyway responsible for one's misfortune.  That's not terrorism.  That's being patriotic.


Eugene said...

I was just wondering, do folk ever refer to Timothy Mcveigh as a terrorist. I know they call him the Oklahoma city bomber, but I don't ever really recall it being referred to as an act of terror. Am I wrong in this thinking. I don't follow it much so I don't know for sure.

Now, vegans freeing fur animals and burning SUV's when folk aren't in 'em, I've heard that referred to as terrorism.

Anonymous said...

This post is dopey. If the guy were using a suicide attack or other atrocity to advance a particular agenda, he'd be a terrorist, whether he were right wing, left wing, Muslim or martian.

That's why McVeigh was regarded as a domestic terrorist. He was not a lone actor, and he was still at large when the act was committed. Of course, one can be a lone terrorist too, such as the Unabomer (a white guy, as it happens).

This case is not terrorism but simply a single act of striking out, destroying oneself and taking a little revenge in the process.

I do agree with the other commenter that there is a difference between terrorism and sabotage and people ought to make the distinction.

Dan Binmore said...

@ anonymous. The guy wrote a suicide note outlining his agenda, in which he explicitly stated that he hoped his agenda would be advanced by his actions.

The agenda was not much different from Timothy McVeigh's agenda.

Unknown said...

Yeah, and he quoted the Communist Manifesto favorably.