Suicide Bagger? Joe Stack (1956-2010)

Is this the beginnings of a creepy new form of teabagger madness: suicide baggers? It appears that a Tea Party movement sympathizer, Joe Stack, furious over unjust taxation, cracked today and crashed his small plane into an IRS office complex in Austin, Texas. Here’s his “no taxation without representation” comment from his (very) badly written web rant (posted 2/18/2010):

We are all taught as children that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy.  Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all.  We are further brainwashed to believe that there is freedom in this place, and that we should be ready to lay our lives down for the noble principals represented by its founding fathers.  Remember? One of these was “no taxation without representation”.  I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood.  These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a “crackpot”, traitor and worse.

And in another part of his suicide web note he speaks of getting together with others to read the tax code together. Sounds like a hoot:

My introduction to the real American nightmare starts back in the early ‘80s. . . . Some friends introduced me to a group of people who were having ‘tax code’ readings and discussions. . . . The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living.  However, this is where I learned that there are two “interpretations” for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us.

From what Joe Stack is describing, it’s hard to tell if this was an atheist group opposed to tax exempt status for churches, or if this was some sort of right wing thing. In any case, repeated hard luck on the employment front—and a recent IRS audit—drove him to bitter resentment of government for the rich:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything.  Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”.  Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.

These are hardly unconventional sentiments. Glenn Beck channels this kind of rage every day. Indeed, Joe Stack sounds a lot like Glenn Beck here:

I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. But now the logic of this goes to the reductio ad absurdum of the madman—violence:

Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.  The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing, at and using this awareness against, fools like me all along. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

Joe Stack’s web rant ends with a bitterly ironic swerve on Karl Marx. I wonder if Joe Stack made this up himself, or got it from somewhere:

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

What I personally find troubling about Joe Stack’s suicide web note is how conventional his sentiments are. They are the “common sense” working man populist views that right-wing radio and Fox News gin up in their audiences every day. And the left tries to tap these sentiments as well (think of Ed Schultz on MSNBC as an example). What this man did was offer a violent extension to the fevered rhetoric that surrounds us every day. It’s a disturbing manifestation of our cultural Zeitgeist.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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22 Responses to Suicide Bagger? Joe Stack (1956-2010)

  1. Pingback: Tea Bomber Joe Stack (1956-2010) « Prometheus Unbound

  2. Pingback: IRS Tea Bomber Joe Stack (1956-2010) Played Bass, the Accordion, and Sang in a Band. He was also “Easygoing” « Prometheus Unbound

  3. Cap Matifou says:

    He was a hero, RIP
    Read the full original letter.

  4. Soni says:

    Hmmm, just cause someone sympathizes with the Tea Party folks doesn’t mean they are one. Those Tea Partiers are a bunch of Right wing conservative capitalists with a few libertarians thrown in. I hate them, but agree with much of what the man you label “suicide bagger” said.

  5. Linda Smith says:

    I agree with Cap and Soni. I have read the entire letter and find that I do agree with alot of Joe Stack’s frustrations as well, which is WHY I AM a tea party patriot…I am not “right wing” I am not a “conservative” but i am sick and tired of paying taxes out the nose and government butting into my personal business! Regardless of whatever “party” you associate yourself with, we are ALL Americans and deserve better from BOTH parties, THAT is what the tea party movement is really about! It is a shame that a great movement is being overshadowed as a “right wing” movement because if successful, the movement would help everyone…at least everyone who was not sitting around looking for a hand out from Big Brother!

  6. s says:

    Why are you calling him teabagger? The guy was a left loony. You have no proof that he was a teabagger at all.
    1. He rants against Reagan
    2. He rants against Bush
    3. And finally this little quote that you carefully omitted:

    “The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

    The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

    Joe Stack (1956-2010)”

  7. Dell Dude says:

    Both the left and the right are desperately trying to disassociate themselves from Stack, but what they fail to realize is that they are both complicit in his evolved hatred of the overreaching federal government. Look at his background. He was educated, skilled, outsourced, and overwhelmed by taxes, which pretty much makes him a lot like the average Joe these days.

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      I’m often critical of both parties. I wish the system allowed for more choices than just Democrat or Republican. Even so, I don’t think anti-government outrage does much good. Polls show that most Americans don’t like all of the polarization in politics.

      Sure, nobody likes taxes, but it should be kept in context. We Americans pay less taxes than people do in many other countries. We live relatively easy lives here in the US. Most Americans, including Joe Stack, don’t know what true difficulty is.

      Joe Stack tried to beat the system and lost. The system is imperfect, but there is no point bashing your head against it until you go crazy.

  8. Benjamin Steele says:

    I still have’t read his entire suicide note. From what I have read, what intrigues me the most is that Joe Stack’s views don’t seem particularly extreme. What he wrote was just, as you say, the “common sense” working class populist views.

    That worries me more than if he were simply a crackpot. It means the pundits in mainstream media are having a real impact on frustrated people who otherwise are normal. As far as I know, Joe Stack hasn’t been shown to have been mentally ill. He just was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it any more.

    “Joe Stack’s web rant ends with a bitterly ironic swerve on Karl Marx. I wonder if Joe Stack made this up himself, or got it from somewhere”

    I came across an article that discussed the orign of Stack’s concluding statements.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/233860

    “Some of the bloggers seeking the line’s origins have attributed it to the late British essayist Henry Fairlie. This is only partly accurate, and the difference is telling. The line identified by the bloggers appeared in a 1987 essay Fairlie wrote for The New Republic about the greed and shoddy morals of televangelists like Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell.”

    • santitafarella says:

      Benjamin:

      I completely agree with your statement here: “That worries me more than if he were simply a crackpot. It means the pundits in mainstream media are having a real impact on frustrated people who otherwise are normal.”

      Well said.

      —Santi

  9. santitafarella says:

    Benjamin:

    Thanks for the Henry Fairlie tip. I actually have a recent collection of Fairlie’s essays. I’ll see if the 1987 piece is in that book.

    —Santi

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      As far as I can recall, that article was the first time I’ve seen any mention of Henry Fairlie. Have you read some of Fairlie’s essays? My curiosity is piqued by what I read in the article. He sounds like he has some good critcisms of US conservatism.

      I wonder what conservatism would be like now if they hadn’t taken up the Southern Strategy and Reagan hadn’t come to define the party. I have a feeling that conservatism is going to be entirely redefined in the coming decades… or that is my hope. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m tired of the endless culture wars.

      I also wish Republicans would drop the whole “government is the problem” rhetoric because it’s obvious Republican politicians like big government just as much as Democrat politicians. It’s because Republicans have constantly stoked the fires of anti-government outrage that we have people like Joe Stacks. I know that Republicans see it as an effective method of mobilizing their base, but such campaign tactics don’t help make the world a better place.

  10. santitafarella says:

    Benjamin,

    In the suummer I did a brief post on Fairlie here:

    https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/henry-fairlie-on-the-iffy-desirability-of-being-an-american-consumer/

    I quoted Fairlie and briefly talked about him. See if you like the flavor of the quote, and if you do you might enjoy reading him. Fairlie was British, and he crackles as an essayist: he’s funny and very, very smart. He once wrote a piece for the New Republic punning on Marx titled “The Idiocy of Urban Life.” Marx had, famously, written of the “idiocy of rural life” and Fairlie turned it around. This may be one of the essays from which Joe Stack derived his ironic turn on Marxism at the end of his rant.

    —Santi

  11. santitafarella says:

    Benjamin:

    You and I seem sympatico in our worries about the Republican Party. I would like to see a moderate conservative party with sane politicians that balance Democratic excesses. But since Obama’s election Republicans have been getting rewarded for running to the political margins of the far right. My fear is that a major terrorist incident (a nuke in the harbor of Long Beach, for example) would turn the country decisively into a right wing authoritarian country. I think that what we’re witnessing in the Republican Party is right wing authoritarianism, not George Will style conservatism, and the result could be catastrophic for the country’s direction in a crisis. The Tea Party people are the “avant guard” for a coming authoritarianism.

    I keep praying the economy will turn around and the unemployment rate will come down because authoritarians thrive on crisis and economic misery. Unfortunately, the Bushies dug such a deep hole for the country that we may not come out for years. The very Keynsian stimulus programs and bailouts that kept the country from falling into Great Depression 2.0 have been so badly panned by the right that if we have another crisis it’s likely that we would simply drop into it and right wing authoritarians would thrive and rule across the board. And memories, being short, will shift the blame to Obama. I just hope that is not what we’re witnessing.

    —Santi

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      My worry about conservatism is their love affair with propaganda. They don’t trust human reason or the education system. They think people have to be told what to believe.

      They create think tanks because they’re unable to control higher education and manipulate it to their ends. They create organizations that serve no purpose other than spreading traditional values. They create media like Fox News for the purpose of spinning the news and controlling public discourse. In Texas right now, Christian fundamentalists have gained control and are trying to enforce their ideology to be placed in textbooks that will be used across the country.

      I’m just not a fan of propaganda. I don’t care if it’s propaganda for ideas I agree with. Propaganda always leads to very bad results. Propaganda ultimately is just one of the many expressions of the authoritarian attitude.

      Conservatives would say that liberals use propaganda too. That is true to an extent, but not in the way that conservatives use propaganda. A part of liberal ideology is that teachers should teach fairly and that news reporters should show all sides. Liberals have more faith in human reason and in the education system. The problem is that many liberals don’t understand how effective propaganda can be. Liberals sometimes have too much faith in human reason and assume that the public can see past the conservative propaganda. Sadly, people are easily manipulated.

      In a recent post, I contrasted the conservative use of propaganda and the liberal use of art:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/avatar-imagination-culture/

      • santitafarella says:

        Benjamin:

        Thanks for the link.

        And you said: “Liberals sometimes have too much faith in human reason and assume that the public can see past the conservative propaganda. Sadly, people are easily manipulated.”

        I agree. And it’s grounds for despair: critical thinking is hard; watching Glenn Beck is easy.

        —Santi

  12. 0ll says:

    government taxation is the problem not gov.party I am of exact sentimate of stack and same age and same issue and worse a single mom who finds taxation so distructive to human gain and spirit that I hate our entire government absolutely and thououghly. people wake up we all live on 20 percent of our true net & I would rather divorce myself & state from the federal government than to give them another dime to spend inappropriately and you can keep your fucking tea party too…americans send dumb young boys to fight & die for us only for them to come back realizing only politics gain . politicians are the enemy and religion had nothing to do with it all Americans are lazy and irresponsible with their monies and do not follow where it goes how it is spent and then wines about it quit you’re bellyaching get up off your fat ignorant asses and STOP PAYING THE FUCKING TAXES – REVOLT AS A WHOLE S FUCK THE FEDS HAVE ALREADY TAKEN YOUR HOUSES WHAT ELSE CAN THEY TAKE? REVOLT AND STOP SNIVILLING – JOE STACK WOULD BE BETTER REMEMBERED FOR STARTING A REVOLUTION OF MERIT HAD HE HAS TRUE SUPPORTERS INSTEAD OF LOUSY AMERCANS WHO PROFESS TO BE AMERICANS BUT ARE TRULY COWARDS . IT TOOK GUTS TO DO WHAT JOE DID THERE IS A TRUE AMERICAN WHO FOUGHT BACK AFTER ALL WHAT ELSE COULD THEY TAKE? whatever you have you cannot take it with you when you go anyway I teach my fatherless daughters to fight for what they believe in & I honour joe

  13. 0ll says:

    our american pie is made of mud now & the feds have only added rocks for texture in place of fruit or meat

  14. Justin Mooser says:

    I just can’t help but feel frustrated that Joe Stack’s M.O. (reason) for committing suicide is diluted with this whole tax thing.

    The reason Joe Stack committed suicide isn’t because he has to PAY taxes, it was because he had to PAY taxes to a government that didn’t represent him. I.e. the government is corrupt, and he felt like a traitor paying into a big organized crime syndicate.

    He has a very valid point. Get mad America, get very mad.

  15. santitafarella says:

    Justin:

    Simplicity is bliss. As governments go, especially in a complex civilization like the one we actually live in, the American government is not especially corrupt. There are checks and balances built into the system (an important intellectual innovation—thank goodness for it), and people can vote. Collectively, you get exactly the kind of government that you deserve. Politicians, for example, wouldn’t use inane 30 second commercials to win elections if they didn’t work.

    A man like Joe Stack is not an admirable person. He went for the easy visual, and in his rant gave his mind over to the simplicity of conspiracy theories. He also gave himself over to paranoia, irrationality, and violence. The Tea Party crowd that is admiring him consists of intellectual and emotional juveniles. They are not taking the complexities of 21st century life seriously, but live in a nostalgic fantasy of a return to what they imagine as a better world (1950s Leave It to Beaver America).

    It’s the politics of nostalgia, the politics of religious fundamentalist faith, and the politics of disgust (directed at gays, Barack Obama etc.). What we need is the politics of realist grown ups, the politics of doubt, and the politics of humanity.

    —Santi

  16. Anonymous says:

    ON SUICIDE by Vincent M. Consolo

    I have struggled with the various ways people die. I make the assumption that a person’s existence consists of a physical body and a spiritual body. Both of these are subject to death and can cause the earthly removal of that person. I have also come to the conclusion that in the eternal scheme of things it doesn’t matter how either one of these deaths takes place.

    A person may die at any age for a variety of reasons, such as, disease, accident, murder, or suicide. The most common is old age or disease which causes the physical body to cease to function. Society and religion accept this type of death. When a person dies by a disease, an accident, or is murdered, society and religion also have some comforting words to explain these deaths.

    But, suicide is not generally accepted by society as a natural form of death. I reject this. I also believe every person has the right to determine his own earthly and eternal destiny. This includes the timing of their death. Each person has the right to decide his/her own time table for the duration of this earthly experience. As the human body is vulnerable to germs, viruses, and organs that degenerate to cause death, so is the spiritual body subject to its unique forms of germs and viruses.

    The spiritual body is influenced by the mind with the inputs from sight, taste, hearing, feeling, but mainly by the emotions. The typical germs and viruses that attack the spiritual body are mainly generated by the actions of other people or the actions of society toward that person. A person’s spiritual body can become so overwhelmed with physical suffering, or the vicissitudes of life, or the relentless actions of other people or government entities, that the spiritual body dies by the suicide of that person. I submit that this is also a natural form of death and that God accepts this as he does any of the physical types of death. I believe there is life after death. I don’t believe in sin, a hell, or eternal suffering. I believe it is an offence to God to think that He would allow such a thing to exist. Even in suicide.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ad on: I want to clarify my thoughts on suicide: I do not believe in suicide that includedes killing other people. I understand suicide may bring about emotional distress to others though, (even some guilt) but this is the nature of any kind of death.

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