It’s been about a month since Joe Stack flew his plane into an Internal Revenue Service office in North Austin. In the media hubbub that followed, bloggers pored over Stack’s anti-tax manifesto, pundits questioned whether his act was terrorism, and The New York Times ran a feature exploring the unfairness of the obscure tax law Stack had criticized. With all the jabbering about Stack’s motives, one could be forgiven for forgetting that his act had flesh-and-blood victims. The explosion killed 68-year-old Vernon Hunter, an IRS worker who did two tours in Vietnam. In Stack’s manifesto, he told the IRS to “take my pound of flesh and sleep well.” Stack also took Hunter’s pound of flesh, the flesh of a man who spent years serving his country and had nothing to do with the tax laws that tormented Stack.
In one of the oddest—and saddest—moments in the days following Stack’s murderous act, Hunter’s son Ken was forced to go on the defensive. He reminded viewers of CBS News that Stack wasn’t the hero. “My dad’s a hero,” he said, responding to one of Stack’s daughters, who had defended her father.
Even those who weren’t defending Stack refused to openly criticize him. Gov. Rick Perry’s only official response was to praise the first responders’ “selfless acts of heroism.” Instead of condemning Stack, the governor said it was “important to refrain from speculation.” Contrast that with his statement after the recent arrests of the East Texas church arsonists, who “terrorized not only the respective church congregations, but entire communities.” As horrible as the church attacks were, no one was injured in the fires. Joe Stack killed someone. Where’s the outrage, governor?
Here’s a clue. On tax day last year, Perry was at Austin City Hall riling up the crowd at an early Tea Party event. “If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that,” he told the rabidly anti-tax, anti-government crowd.
Perry was certainly not advocating violence, and it’s way too simplistic to blame Tea Party rhetoric for Joe Stack’s actions. But Stack was surely aware of the political trends when he wrote “by not adding my body to the count, I insure [sic] nothing will change.” That’s why leaders whose rhetoric scapegoats the federal government—we’re talking to you, Gov. Perry—need to speak out forcefully when violence is committed against the real human beings who help run our country.