Was IRS Tea Bomber Joe Stack (1956-2010) an Atheist?

Maybe suicide terrorism isn’t the preserve of fanatic religionists afterall.

In Joe Stack’s suicide web rant, which he posted just prior to flying a plane into an Austin office building filled with IRS employees, there is evidence that he was an antitheist of some sort—or at least very hostile toward institutionalized religion. Here’s part of what he said:

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.

The monsters of organized religion. Hmm. Joe Stack seemed to hate not just big government and big business, but big religion. To read the comment in its full context, see page 2 of his letter here.

And I wonder if he was influenced to his final deed by a conclusion that life is not about love and justice, but about dog eat dog survival of the fittest. He doesn’t mention Charles Darwin, but here’s what he says at the end of his letter:

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.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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14 Responses to Was IRS Tea Bomber Joe Stack (1956-2010) an Atheist?

  1. andrewclunn says:

    People are claiming that he was everything (and usually anything they don’t like.) I don’t really think we should try to score political points with this. I’ve read his ‘manifesto’ and it’s impossible to pin him into any one group or archetype based on it.

    • santitafarella says:

      Andrew:

      So you want us not to notice—or to downplay—the content of the letter as just the incoherent ravings of a madman?

      If he was influenced by anti-theistic sentiments and tea party “no taxation without representation” middle class populism, that should be ignored?

      Why?

      —Santi

  2. Anonymous 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)”

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      Many rightwingers are critical of Republican politicians. That isn’t surprising. I’ve heard interviews of Tea Partiers who blame Bush as much as they blame Obama.

      What is interesting is that he references communism. Besides the communist comment, the rest of what he says would fit perfectly fine within the label of rightwing ideology. His views do seem to be libertarian to an extent, but there are liberal versions of libertarianism.

      The problem is that we only understand politics in terms of left and right. When you look at many American’s beliefs, they can’t be simply labelled as left or right. On average, most Americans (and most independents) are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

    • santitafarella says:

      Anonymous:

      Joe Stack channels the teabagger zeitgeist. I only dealt with the atheism aspect of his rant in this post. I dealt with his “no taxation without representation” ranting here (and I quoted his communist/capitalist irony lines):

      https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/suicide-bagger-joe-stack-1956-2010/

      —Santi

      • Benjamin Steele says:

        I agree. It does seem that Joe Stack was channelling the teabagger zeitgeist.

        It confuses the media though because the media has such simplistic understanding of politics. When you look outside of party politics, there is a crazy mix of ideologies. The media has to either categorize him as a rightwinger because of his anti-taxation sentiments or as a leftwinger because of his communist statement.

        I personally doubt he was a communist. He was simply a disgruntled capitalist. He tried to play the game and realized too late that the game was rigged.

  3. 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)”

    • santitafarella says:

      If “anonymous” and “s” are not the same person, then there’s a cut and paste meme being spread about to distance the right from Joe Stack.

      —Santi

  4. Mac says:

    An incoherent rant from a terrorist should not be considered as representative of the right. It is ridiculous to link an entire ideology with one nut. The majority of America is center right and are not terrorists! Similarly, linking this terrorist with the Tea Party movement is a reach. Actually, clutching and clawing comes to mind! Trying to link the two is desperate rhetoric. Clearly Stack did not follow his on advice and take responsibility for his own life.

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      I stil haven’t read his entire letter and I should do that. Do you think his writing was merely an “incoherent rant”? I’ve noticed other people who’ve mentioned how they were surprised by how coherent his criticisms were.

      I think everyone agrees that there is no evidence that Stack had any formal connections to the Tea Party. The point being made here is that Stack’s criticisms are part of the same atmosphere that created the Tea Party. This atmosphere pops up in many places that aren’t necessarily directly related, but they all have a common origin. The Republican party has intentionally stoked the fire of anti-government outrage.

      Everything happens within a larger context. There are many connections that can be found with a little research. I’m sure more connections will become apparent with Joe Stack. As for the Tea Party, I thought the following article made a good point:

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/02/a_scary_tea_party.html

      It’s not that there aren’t legitimate criticisms of the government. But we should separate the criticisms that are legitimate from those that aren’t. The problem is that it’s hard to differentiate the extremists. Joe Stack was considered sane and normal by people who knew him. That is the danger of legitimizing anti-government sentiment. Terrorism such as what Joe Stack did is the inevitable result. It’s one thing to be critical of government and it’s a whole other thing to be anti-government.

  5. santitafarella says:

    Mac:

    Joe Stack is the canary in the right wing mental coal mine. His action tells you where the hysterical rhetoric poured from hate radio by the gallons-full takes a mind in a moment of crisis.

    In anticipation of a crisis, the far right—by legitimizing things like torture, Birchite conspiracy theories, and calling Stack a patriot—is softening the country up for a more brash authoritarian ethos. Can’t you see that?

    It’s the Shock Doctrine. In a time of crisis, run to brash moves. In a time when there is no crisis, soften the country up with extreme rhetoric. Get people used to hearing politicians unapologetically bash gays, stereotype Muslims, advocate torture, and disdain liberalism and cosmopolitanism, and when a real crisis comes serve up authoritarian measures and scapegoats.

    —Santi

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      I think Beck is a good example.

      It’s no accident that Beck supported Bush, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and torture… and now Beck supports the Tea Party and anti-government ideology. Beck supported the fear-mongering of Bush and now he fear-mongers about the government & socialism. Being for and against big government is part of the same fear-mongering which conservatives have used so effectively for the last century (going back to the KKK which would at times use anti-socialist rhetoric to attack the govt and at other times promote populist patriotism).

      Anti-communism/anti-socialism sentiments go hand in hand with patriotic fascism sentiments. Bush and Skousen are the two sides of the conservative movement. The two sides sometimes seem to compete, but in reality they support one another.

    • Mac says:

      Stack is the warning sign that anyone to the right of you is about to commit violence? The root cause is talk radio? So, Stack is not to blame for his actions?
      That sounds a lot like his diatribe, blame everyone else for all his problems.
      Your arguments are not valid. As far as I know the far right did not legitimize torture. It is not legitimate. Who is calling Stack a patriot? Clearly that is not accurate. Shock doctrine? That sounds like a conspiracy theory.

      Comment from B Steele:

      “That is the danger of legitimizing anti-government sentiment. Terrorism such as what Joe Stack did is the inevitable result”.

      Not even close to valid. It is legit to have anti-gov sentiments. We don’t have thought police in this country. He had no choice but to commit an act of terrorism because he had anti-government thoughts? It just could not be that this guy blamed easy targets for all his troubles and made a choice to kill. He blamed everyone but God, or maybe he did. Now you are shifting blame from the one person that did this to anyone who has had anti-government thoughts, probably every adult in this hemisphere.

      • Benjamin Steele says:

        “As far as I know the far right did not legitimize torture. It is not legitimate.”

        I agree it isn’t legitimate in either a moral or legal sense. But it did become politically legitimized. And this political legitimazation was supported and promoted by those on the far right. Polls show the strongest supporters of torture were white Southern Christians which was a group that held great influence during Bush’s administration.

        “It is legit to have anti-gov sentiments.”

        I think you misunderstand. I’m not arguing we should have thought police. My statement was in the context of other statements I was making, specifically those about fear-mongering. I was thinking about the right has used fear and hatred to mobilize it’s base which I consider dangerous.

        I’m, however, not speaking about merely having criticisms about the government. I’m familiar with some very intelligent critics of government (Derrick Jensen, Stefan Molyneux). It’s true they’re against government, but they don’t fear-monger. So, by “anti-government sentiments” I’m referring to a type of fear-mongering that leans in the direction of paranoid conspiracy theorizing.

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