Terrorism’s defining moment

The plane attack on the IRS should illuminate the reality of right-wing extremist terror.

Jennifer Bissell

Last week a man flew a small private plane into an Austin, Texas, Internal Revenue Service building, demonstrating a growing brand of terrorism within the United States. An online manifesto written by the pilot, Joseph Stack, reveals he was motivated by a hatred of U.S. tax laws, accountants and the IRS. âÄúViolence is not only the answer, it is the only answer,âÄù Stack wrote before flying into the building where nearly 200 federal employees work. One man was killed in the attack, along with Stack. The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement assuring the public it was not an act of terrorism. However, this seems to be more of a political decision than one of accuracy in labeling the event. Comparing the attack to the USA Patriot ActâÄôs definition of terror, the label seems to fit perfectly. The act defines terrorism as a crime intended to âÄúintimidate or coerce a civilian population to influence the policy of a government.âÄù âÄúI can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white-washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt,âÄù Stack wrote. âÄúIt will take nothing less.âÄù Austin police Chief Art Acevedo said he saw the event as an isolated criminal attack carried out by a lone individual. Branding the crime as terrorism would have provoked unnecessary panic, he said in an Associated Press interview. However, the threat of homegrown radicals is undoubtedly real and serious. In fact, this attack could be a part of a growing trend of right-wing extremist terror. Prior to Sept. 11, the biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history was a bombing by a right-wing extremist on an Oklahoma federal building in 1995. Additionally, the FBI reports that between 2002 and 2005, eight of the 14 terrorist acts prevented were from right-wing groups. Furthermore, the threat may be growing. According to a Department of Homeland Security report, right-wing extremism is on the rise throughout the country, which could result in an increase in violence. The economic downturn could also create a more fertile recruiting environment for the groups, the report said. For the past couple years these attacks have become too frequent. In July 2008, there was a shooting in a Tennessee church prompted by a hatred of liberalism and Democratic leaders. Glenn Beck may have influenced the man responsible for shooting three police officers in Pittsburg last April. The gunman regularly watched Beck and posted clips from the show to a white supremacist Web site. In May 2009 the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller is thought to have been the result of The OâÄôReilly FactorâÄôs 29 episodes in which TillerâÄôs name appeared in references such as the âÄúbaby killer,âÄù âÄúmurdererâÄù and âÄúNazi.âÄù And in June, a white supremacist associated with the radial right wing fatally shot a guard inside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. These acts of violence are serious offences and should not be overlooked. When we fail to associate the acts with terrorism, we fail to take acknowledge the issue. If the recent Christmas Day attack had not been labeled terrorism, would there have been such a media blitz about it? Would we be looking into Yemen as thoroughly right now? Would the public even care about the event months later? Interestingly, two of the previous references have possible attributions to conservative talking pundits. First, it should be clear that the mainstream right is not in association with right-wing extremists, and second, it should also be acknowledged that the pundits are not directly responsible for the crimes. However, a discussion of the punditsâÄô influence might be justified. Just as the video game Doom was examined thoroughly after the Columbine High School massacre, perhaps an examination is needed for the extreme far-rightâÄôs hate-infused speech and influence over imbalanced viewers. The IRS plane crash has called into focus an important question: What is terror? Does it come from an overseas group with a malicious agenda, or can it also come from a U.S. citizen? IsnâÄôt a domestic attack within the country also serious? ShouldnâÄôt our rhetoric reflect this? Terrorism in any form is something to be handled responsibly. There are a great number of issues plaguing our society today, but letting one issue slide, such as extremist terror, can allow it to grow into a much larger problem. Jennifer Bissell welcomes comments at [email protected]