Who is Joseph Stack?
Inside the mind of the Austin man who crashed his plane into an IRS building: His personal life, his politics, and his vengeful death wish
A day after Joseph Stack torched his home and crashed his single-engine Piper Cherokee airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, reportedly killing himself and at least one other person, many questions remain. But thanks to Stack's impassioned online manifesto and an efficient media, we're starting to get a clearer picture of Stack and his motives. (Watch a CBS report about Joseph Stack's suicide.) Here's your THE WEEK briefing:
Who is Joe Stack?Andrew Joseph Stack III, 53, was raised in a Hershey, Pa., orphanage, studied engineering at a nearby community college, then moved to California in the 1980s, where he started two software companies that were subsequently suspended by state tax regulators. Divorced once, he had been living in Austin with second wife, music teacher Sheryl Housh Mann, a daughter, and a stepdaughter. Until recently, Stack played bass in a local alt-country band.
Why did he do it?In short, because he believed that the American tax system is unfair. Though Stack's friends say he was even-tempered, he had been compiling grievances in a lengthy online "rant." (Read Stack's entire screed/suicide note here) He outlines a plan to add his "body to the [death] count" to get "the American zombies" to "wake up and revolt" against our tax system. "Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man," he concludes, "take my pound of flesh and sleep well."
Why was Stack so furious at the IRS?He was apparently busted in the 1980s for claiming his home was a church to avoid taxation — a protest scheme he says cost him "$40,000+" and "10 years of my life." He spent another $5,000 fighting a 1986 tax rule that makes it hard for computer engineers to be labeled private contractors. He also deemed two recent audits unfair.
Is his crash being labeled a terrorist act?Federal officials describe it as "apparently a criminal act." The White House is deferring comment until a federal investigation concludes. In the blogosphere, a partisan war over the "terrorism" question has broken out. Many left-leaning bloggers say Stark's clearly articulated political goals make his attack an act of domestic terrorism, while conservatives typically characterize Stark as just another lone-wolf "whack job who decided to take his frustrations out on the world."
What are Stack's politics?Hard to classify, but it's safe to describe him as "anti-government." His suicide "rant" primarily attacks the IRS, but he also trashed GM executives, the Catholic Church, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D, NY), George W. Bush "and his cronies," Arthur Andersen and accountants generally, and drug and insurance companies, among others.
Did Stack identify with the Tea Party?There's no evidence one way or the other. The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart says Stack's screed sounds in line with "the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement," while Drew M. at the conservative site Ace of Spades says Stack's views "seem [Lyndon] LaRouchian and/or [Ron] Paulian."
Does Stack have sympathizers?Yes. A number of Facebook pages quickly sprung up supporting Stack (example: "Joseph Andrew Stack, we salute thee"), although Facebook has begun removing them. Bloggers at The Business Insider report being deluged with comments and emails from "Stack fans" who "regard him as a patriot" — prompting editor-in-chief Henry Blodget to reply: "The only difference between Joe Stack and Osama Bin Laden is that Bin Laden was successful."
Are attacks against the IRS unusual?No, they are surprisingly common — there were more than 1,200 IRS threat and assault cases between 2001 and 2008, resulting in at least 195 convictions — and they tend to occur more frequently whenever the IRS steps up enforcement. Austin has seen its share: in 1995, a local car salesman plotted to blow up another IRS office.
SEE MORE COVERAGE OF THE AUSTIN CRASH: • Joe Stack and the Austin plane crash: What we know• Video: Plane crashes into government building