My Blog About the Guy Who Flew His Plane Into an IRS Building

20Feb10

My Blog About the Guy Who Flew His Plane Into the IRS Building
Brandon Adams

Is the blogging community done with Joe Stack? I find that hard to believe.

As a writer, I live backwards, constantly analyzing and reliving past events. Most people find this torturous, but for writers it’s a better than tolerable existence. We find comfort in other writers, who are themselves combing through the past — analyzing, regretting, synthesizing, never catching up with flow of actual events.

Are writers finished thinking about Joe Stack? I’m not.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Joe Stack was a terrorist and a bad guy. We can all agree on that.

Some time around 10am, Joe’s plane hit an office building that housed two hundred IRS employees. Within two hours, every major news outlet had covered the story and Joe Stack’s suicide letter was available for all to see on a website registered to Joe’s wife, http://embeddedart.com.

At 2.30pm, the company that hosted Joe’s website took down the letter and left the following note in its place:

This website has been taken offline due to the sensitive nature of the events that transpired in Texas this morning and in compliance with a request from the FBI. If you want to see the original letter, please see the archived version at thesmokinggun.com: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2010/0218102stack1.html

Regards,

T35 Hosting

The blogging community quickly reported that the FBI had taken down the note. The story became clouded as the afternoon wore on, with some suggesting that T35 Hosting had taken down the letter due to the cost of hosting a site that was getting millions of hits per hour.

FBI spokesman Special Agent Eric Vasys said, “the FBI does not request that sites remove language such as being reported to be authored by Mr. Stack. That’s not our area to do that.” Vasys added: “In similar investigations, requests are made that electronic records be maintained for investigative purposes and not be destroyed or erased.”

Alex Melen, the president and founder of T35, stood by his initial claim. He said, “the FBI did call me and ask that I take down the site. I am not sure if you’d call it a request, recommendation, or suggestion, but that’s what happened.”  We have to suppose that Alex is a favorite to be telling the truth in this spot. I could easily see the business motive for taking down the site: T35 is in the business of hosting services, now one of their clients is dead and running up thousands of dollars in bandwidth charges. Taking down the letter seems like a reasonable decision, but taking down the letter and replacing it with text that says that the website has been taken down “in compliance with a request from the FBI” seems completely implausible. If his motive is to save money, can’t he just take entirely take down the site, such that those going to embeddedart.com are told that no such site exists? I feel sure that there are some edgy, alternative web hosting guys out there that I haven’t met, but are any of them really going to publicly lie about something the FBI told them when they find themselves in the midst of situation that is clearly of great importance to the FBI? I don’t see it.

Consider again the language of Eric Vasys’ statement: “The FBI does not request that sites remove language such as reported to be authored by Mr. Stack.” Now, let me digress to say that I am not a conspiracy theorist. There are thousands of different paths events could have taken; it’s not my style to try to guess which one actually transpired. Perhaps Vasys spoke in general terms, when in fact the general terms were violated by the specific actions of someone working at the FBI. Perhaps the call that Melen thought came from the FBI in fact came from one of the millions of random of people viewing the site. We cannot know. There is one thing, however, that we do know — Eric Vasys is an FBI spokesman, and he knew that his statements would be widely circulated. The statements, therefore, were, despite the tortured syntax, carefully constructed.

The FBI statement was incredibly effective at muting the media response to the Joe Stack suicide. From the point of view of major media organizations, Joe Stack’s authorship of the suicide letter, previously iron-clad (embeddedart.com was registered in his wife’s name, the admin IPs would almost certainly be his), was now cast into doubt. The hosting company was now fully cast into doubt, and with the hosting company in doubt, media companies could be not be sure that Stack had in fact written the letter. The FBI’s own language, “reported to be authored,” suggested that, in their view, prudent men should still have doubts.

The New York Times coverage of this incident was bizarre and somewhat reflective of the general media coverage of the event. On the front page of the Friday New York Times, there was a large picture of the building that Stack destroyed. The caption heading was, “One man’s act of rage against the I.R.S.” The accompanying story was relegated to page A12 and is so bad as to be almost comical.

The title of the New York Times article (on A12, continued on A15) is “Man with Grudge Against the Tax System Crashes Plane Into Texas I.R.S. Office”. The first quote about Joe Stack comes in the fifth paragraph:

“I knew Joe had a hang-up with the I.R.S. on account of them breaking him, taking his savings away,” said Jack Cook, stepfather of Mr. Stack’s wife, in a telephone interview from his home in Oklahoma.

The suicide letter is only mentioned in paragraphs thirteen and fourteen of the article. Those paragraphs are reproduced below:

In a six-page statement signed “Joe Stack (1956-2010)” and posted on a Web site connected to Mr. Stack’s wife, the author singled out the tax agency as a source of suicidal rage, concluding, “Well, Mr. Big Brother I.R.S. man, let’s try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

Though profane at points, the statement articulated grievances with specific sections of the tax code, corporations, politicians, and a local accountant. It appeared to have been written with some deliberation. At one point, the verbs “left” and “abandoned” appear side by side, seemingly an editing choice never settled.

Am I living in an alternate universe? Surely this article is a cruel level. Should I conclude that the New York Times felt massively handcuffed (by the FBI statement and perhaps other interventions) and was trying to signal as much to its readers? I am being completely earnest when I say that I don’t believe that the New York Times writer, Michael Brick, and his editors could have released something this bad. I have to think that this article was written tongue-in-cheek.

The article’s title is questionable. Joe Stack didn’t have a grudge against the I.R.S. He had a grudge against the entire U.S. government, which he perceived to be captured by elites. The fifth paragraph, quoted above, is a character assassination. OK, we get it, he’s a dumb hick with a dumb grudge. I like how, rather than stopping the sentence in a logical place, Michael Brick throws in an extra little jab: “said Jack Cook, stepfather of Mr. Stack’s wife, in a telephone interview from his home in Oklahoma.” Two paragraphs on the suicide letter, but we have a character lock on the stepfather.

The thirteenth paragraph carefully spells out the fact that the authorship of the letter signed “Joe Stack” is in doubt and then notes that, “the author singled out the tax agency as a source of his suicidal rage.” The construction “singled out….a source” seems highly questionable in general, but in this case it’s fully misleading. The suicide letter is about 3200 words long. A quick read will convince the rational mind that Joe Stacks overflowed with rage from many sources. The I.R.S. was only a part of his story.

The fifteenth paragraph continues the character assassination. Joe Stack is a bad guy, we get it. Maybe we shouldn’t read what he has to say just because he flew his plane into a building. But fuck, can’t I just read the truth when I want to read it. I’d like that from the New York Times. Please tell me that this is written in jest: “It appeared to be written with some deliberation. At one point, the verbs “left” and “abandoned” appear side by side, seemingly an editing choice never settled.” Seriously? I’ve been to Texas for a total of six days lifetime, and I know that “left abandoned” is a peculiarity of regional dialect, like “y’all” in my hometown of New Orleans (though “y’all”, unlike “left abandoned,” isn’t disappearing anytime soon).

The truth is that the Joe Stack isn’t a random act of violence perpetrated by dumb guy in Texas who had a crazy grudge against the I.R.S. The Joe Stack story is emblematic of a broad frustration. What truly unhinged Joe Stack was what he perceived to be changes in the rules of the game during play. He felt he could no longer predict the consequences of his actions; the rule of law was subject to change, arbitrarily, and never in favor of people like him.

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One Response to “My Blog About the Guy Who Flew His Plane Into an IRS Building”

  1. Nice blog, looking forward to future entries.

    As far as the T35/FBI thing goes, did you consider an alternative that thesmokinggun.com made T35 an offer to direct traffic to their site?


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