Joseph Andrew Stack III: Definitely Not a Terrorist, So Move Along, Folks

Left: Smoking building that houses the Internal Revenue Service in Austin, Texas; photo by Jack Plunkett/AP

I have been scratching my head following the media coverage of Joe Stack, the pilot who crashed his plane into an Austin building that holds regional offices of the Internal Revenue Service. The disturbed rantings of the software engineer do not puzzle me, as most of us can examples of people who gradually lost their ability to handle reality and begin to see the government as an enemy that needs to be eliminated.

Like Timothy McVeigh, for example.

No, my bewilderment is the quick denial by a variety of government officials that this attack represents an act of terrorism. This denial has emanated from the top of the federal chain, with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs chiming in that Stack's attack "does not appear" to be terrorism.

Of course, defining terrorism is an intellectual exercise in itself, and if we put 100 terrorism experts in the same room, we would wind up with a massive catering bill but little in the way of consensus on a terrorism definition. Still, we have an enraged protagonist with a pathological hatred of government who flew an airplane into a building containing what he perceived to be his chief nemesis with the expressed purpose of deadly violence. He certainly was not offering fast weight loss tips, right?

Heck, Joe Stack even left a detailed manifesto that could have been penned by any international terrorist with the inclusion of a few "down with the U.S." statements. It certainly fits in with the anti-government ideology of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and elements of this manifesto fit the rantings of Unabomber Theodore John Kaczynski.

Yet to listen to government officials one would think that Joe Stack's actions had absolutely no political aims behind them, which is an important component of identifying a terrorist act. Stack's own words sound like the sort of rhetoric a suicide bomber would use: ""Well Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different: take my pound of flesh and sleep well."

I am not sure which approach to terrorism annoys me more: the Bush administration's near-constant mantra warning of terrorism lurking in every dark corner or the Obama administration's seeming unwillingness to use the word "terrorism" in an official pronouncement.

Time to move along now, kiddies: nothing to see here.