Hero or Lunatic?
A little over a week ago now a fifty-three-year-old white, mild mannered, self-employed software engineer ran a private plane into an office building here in Austin. The IRS leased some offices in that building. He did it to get back at the IRS.
The man’s name was Joe Stack. He owed the IRS some money. The man had his own blog, which was originally meant to be an extension of his business but on the day that he decided to commit suicide with an act of domestic terrorism he took down everything else on his website and published his 3,000 word long manifesto. [http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2010/0218102stack1.html] It was a long, rambling, confusing rant by an obviously intelligent but mentally disturbed man.
The only theme that really comes through about Joe Stack is that he had issues with Uncle Sam and the Infernal Revenue Service, in particular. In addition, he had issues with organized religion, the companies who did not give him their consulting business, Austin, TX, and the world in general. Joe Stack had issues, period. He had a list of grievances and resentments a mile long. Joe Stack was, in short, a very angry man.
What do we know about Joe Stack? Not much. He probably had a less than ideal childhood. He and two siblings grew up in the Milton Hershey School, a charitable orphanage built by, yes, that Mr. Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania. A former classmate has described their years at the school as the “lost years,” because of the acts of abuse that occurred during that time.
The Milton Hershey School is the majority shareholder of Hershey Foods Corporation and, as such, actually has more money than they can sometimes spend. The school was expanded greatly during Stack’s years there, and foster parents were hired from the many unemployed steel mill workers in Pennsylvania at the time. Many of these “parents” were abusive, according to an account of those years by one of Stack’s former classmates. [http://thefbm.com/frontpage/exclusive-account-of-the-childhood-of-joseph-stack-by-a-former-schoolmate]
When Joe Stack graduated from the Milton Hershey School he went on to community college in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the place where he writes, in his manifesto, of eating nothing but a steady diet of peanut butter sandwiches. He went to school there for a couple years but did not graduate.
Despite Joe’s humble beginnings as a poverty stricken, abused orphan, he made it into adulthood, described by friends and acquaintances as shy, quiet, and intelligent. He was, apparently, a talented musician who, in later years, enjoyed playing rock and blues guitar with bands.
He moved to California where he started his own software business and began his first plan to cheat the IRS out of taxes by representing himself as a church in order to get non-profit status. He was, surprisingly, found out (since it seems most likely from everything I can glean, that he was an atheist and not an organized one), and the IRS ordered him to pay back the money that he owed in taxes. That was his first run-in with the IRS. There were at least three before he finally committed suicide.
Joe Stack married a woman in California and had a daughter. He got into more trouble with the IRS and lost his pension over it. His first wife divorced him. He had problems finding work, and so decided to move to Austin to try his luck in a new city. According to his manifesto, he had difficulty finding work in Austin and one year even had no income, so he didn’t file a tax form for that reason. Guess what? Even though he didn’t report any income that year the IRS still ruled that he had to file a tax return and so his failure to file became a fine of money that he owed to the IRS again.
Joe married again. He married a musician named Sheryl who had a daughter named Margaux. Sheryl was a troubled woman herself who had spent years in the clutches of a religious cult. Joe and Sheryl were audited by the IRS, even though Joe paid to have a CPA prepare his taxes. This time the IRS said that Joe failed to report roughly $13,000 of Sheryl’s income as a musician. Joe said that he had reported the income to the CPA but the CPA had failed to report it on the Stack’s taxes. Nevertheless, Joe owed back taxes…again.
This time I guess it was all too much and Joe Stack, who had previously been so good at hiding his seething rage at the world in general and the IRS in particular, had had enough. His wife, fearful of him and for the safety of her and her twelve-year-old daughter, Margaux, checked herself and Margaux in to a hotel for the night. When she returned home the next morning her home was on fire and Joe was already on his way to flying his private plane into an office building.
There are things that get me about Joe Stack, not the least of which is that Joe Stack owed back taxes because he cheated on his taxes and failed to report income that he had. Yet we are supposed to feel sorry for a man who tried to pass himself off as a church in order to defraud our government of taxes he owed. Also, one wonders if he could have paid all his back taxes outright by just selling the plane that he, instead, ran into an IRS worker, killing an innocent man.
Joe complains that he has no say in how his money is spent. Taxation without representation. He’s become a poster boy for some of the “teabaggers” in this country, if one can judge by the amount of websites and social network pages that have sprung up in tribute to him [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35519143/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/]. This is not surprising given that the “teabaggers” are a group of Libertarianesque wackos that are not smart enough to google the slang meaning for teabag or teabagging before adopting their nickname [http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=teabagging].
Even Joe Stack’s own daughter, Samantha Bell, now an American expatriate living in Norway, has called her father a “hero,” not, as she later backtracked, for killing an innocent man, but rather for calling attention to the state of the American government and our tax system. [http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/joe-stacks-daughter-samantha-bell-calls-dad-hero/story?id=9903329]
Well, if that’s true, then surely Major Nidal Malik Hasan is a hero also, not for killing twelve and wounding thirty-one others, but for drawing our collective attention to the injustice of the war on Iraq and the state of Palestinian-Israeli relations. Major Hasan is a hero, right? Wrong.
Major Hasan is not a hero anymore than Joe Stack is one. Both men were deeply disturbed, possibly legally mentally insane individuals who committed violent crimes against innocent Americans who had personally done them no wrong.
Does our tax system need an overhaul? Yes. Is our government unfair in how it applies and enforces tax laws? Absolutely. Does modern day America feel more like an oligarchy run by the rich than a Democratic Republic? If you are one of the middle class or poor in American society, then it sure as hell does.
Running a plane into an office building in Austin isn’t going to help with these issues anymore than running two planes into the World Trade Center brought help to oppressed Palestinians. Joe Stack is nothing less than a murderer. We can have compassion for him because of his obvious issues with mental illness, but let’s not make him into a hero. He’s not one.