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Lone Wolf Terrorism

“He refused to classify it as terrorism.”

“At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity”


Where did Stack’s idea to fly a plane into a building originate?

Or to attack a building with the offices of Federal agencies?

It is fortunate that a very large number of people were not killed earlier today and for that we should all be thankful.

Joseph Stack may have been mentally ill. He may have been an evil loser unable to come to grips with his own failures. We can accept that as a given, but those conditions do not preclude someone from committing an act of lone wolf  terrorism. More than likely, they facilitate it. Stack’s manifesto, while mixed with personal frustration and rambling, perseverating, thoughts, was clearly political in nature. We are fortunate that Stack may have been emotionally disturbed, it is only chance that so far has prevented the coming of a superempowered suicide bomber.

The undue haste by authorities to put forth the meme that today’s event is “not terrorism” is unseemly as well as inaccurate. Arguably, it is born out of an unspoken anxiety that, like during the Great Depression when some people cheered bank robbers, calling a spade a spade here might cause others with grievances to revere nutcase perpetrators. Perhaps imitate  them.

If so, then officials underestimate the intelligence and character of their fellow Americans. Crazies with axes to grind will do as insane people do while the rest of us will be horrified by Stack’s actions. Deep-down, the real issue for officials is that they are squeamish that Stack may have scored a rhetorical point or two about elite behavior and oligarchical economic policies in his otherwise unhinged, online rant. Evading the truth makes for bad policies.

Let us be clear: the Austin bombing was a terrorist act and crazy Joe Stack was a terrorist.


Join in on the debate at the Small Wars Council.

25 Responses to “Lone Wolf Terrorism”

  1. Fred Leland Says:

    Its the same old game Zen, rhetoric over truth!!! This is disturbing and clearly an act of home grown terrorism. Sadly an evolving trend.

  2. Joe Stack, Austin Plane Crasher: Terrorist or Nut? Says:

    […] 2:   Glenn Greenwald and Mark Safranski have longish, perfectly reasonable, essays arguing that of course Stack is a terrorist.  I commend […]

  3. Seerov Says:

    Its going to be interesting to see how this guy is portrayed?  I suspect Kieth Olbermann and that guy Maddow will claim he is a "teabagger." 

  4. TDL Says:

    I haven’t followed this closely enough (although I read bits of the manifesto,) but I am impressed with the governments ability to spin this event.  An act of violence against civilians (something that is no longer stressed) to further a political agenda is a terrorist act.  How this can be interpreted as anything but is beyond me.


  5. RMA Says:

    I like the label "lone wolf terrorist." I have labeled these people "free-lance lunatics." They are our greatest terrorist threat. The problem for the government is the difficulty in doing anything about this form of terrorism. They sit and think and plot and it is all in their heads until they act. Very difficult to protect our nation from them.

  6. Stephen Pampinella Says:

    If it looks and quacks like a duck…

  7. Jenn of the Jungle Says:

    To me terrorism is also about terrorizing. This guy was bent on one thing, to avenge his perceived persecution by the IRS. He didn’t hit a shopping malll, a cafe, a disco or a resort full of civilians. No, he hit the enemy in his own mind.  He wasn’t sponsored by any group claiming responsibility. No, I see him as a lunatic, a lefty and a murder. Not a terrorist. Just saying.

    Now if Code Pink steps forward and claims responsibility I will change my mind.

  8. TDL Says:

    Terrorists are not athletes, they don’t need sponsors.  An individual (or a group) that attempts to further a political agenda by attacking a civilian building (and despite their hubris, non-military employees of the government are still civilians) is committing a terrorist act.  Terror is a by product of this particular type of asymmetric attack, therefore the name, it is not necessarily the intent (although in most cases it is, but clear intent requires a higher degree of sophistication on the part of the perpetrator(s).)


  9. Schmedlap Says:

    It would be helpful to have a working definition. My understanding has always been that terrorism is violence waged in order to coerce people into something that brings about realization of some political objective in mind. This seems to have been a lone nutjob with with an ax to grind and a plane to fly whose only goal was to express his frustration in a highly visible way and get his pilot’s license revoked.

  10. zen Says:

    Hi gents,
    The IRS as a target, the act of flying a plane into a building and the building housing Federal offices are all highly symbolic actions.
    If we are going to discount Austin on the grounds of a lack of group sponsorship or a failure to look like the circa 1970 PLO in terms of operational performance or objectives, then we have to toss out most of the 19th and early 20th century terrorist acts committed by anarchists.
    That strikes me as a weirdly parochial and ahistorical way to define terrorism. Just sayin’.

  11. TDL Says:

    We would also have to discount the terrorist entrepreneurs like "Carlos the Jackal".  Even though he was tacitly backed by the PFLP, Iraq, etc., Sanchez mostly acted to further his own agenda.


  12. Schmedlap Says:

    I guess I’m unclear on what his political objective was.

  13. TDL Says:

       The quote below should probably help in understanding what this guy was attempting:

    "I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less.  I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are."



  14. zen Says:

    I think Stack’s political objective was striking out at the government and "insiders" who he also saw, in his haze of anger, as personal tormentors as well as systemic bad actors. A case of multiple motives.
    Granted, this is no grand theory a la Marxism, but Bakunin really didn’t have a master plan either. Many terrorists throughout history have used violence to make relatively inarticulate gestures of general protest with little in the way of a realistic  long term strategy. The Anthrax  letters, Tim McVeigh, the Weather underground, the post-WWI anarchist mail bombings that triggered the Red Scare and so on.

  15. RMA Says:

    Apparently some people believe in order for an act to be an act of terrorism it must have some symbolic meaning beyond just getting even and taking as many of one’s enemies with one as one can when one dies. From this point of view Stark’s act is not an act of terrorism. But people died and property was destroyed. From my point of view "free lance lunatics" are terrorists. The fact they don’t have any long range political objective doesn’t matter.

  16. Joseph Fouche Says:

    J.C. Wylie wrote this in the 1988 postscript to his obscure 1968 classic Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control:

    The best definition of the the aim of terrorism that I have found [is] “…the capture and control of the processes of social change.” Delaney [the originator of the definition] goes on to note: “that not one military word is used in this definition [is]…significant because it establishes the distinction between a conventional military approach and the revolutionary approach of an insurgent enemy.”…

    It is of interest to note, though, that the strategies of the terrorists do follow quite closely the general theory of strategy postulated in this book.

    In their war against society, their aim is “some selected degree of control [of the processes of social change] for…[their] own purpose.” They seek to achieve this “by control of the pattern” of their war against society. And they do this by creating and manipulating a “center of gravity” (a person or an installation that will ensure public attention) which they have selected “to the advantage of the strategist and the disadvantage of the opponent“, the opponent being the organized society over which they want to exercise control.

    Their pattern of operation is to control “the nature and the placement and the timing and the weight of the center of gravity” that they have chosen “toward [their] own ends“—the control of the processes of social change. They select their targets for the greatest impact on that society.

  17. lolchicagoboyz Says:

    I like how Shannon Love’s points one to three also describe himself, at least from past behaviors I’ve seen him involved in on the net e.g. inflated sense of statistical mastery, believes the left are a monolithic evil etc. etc.

    Perhaps he forgot about glass houses, stones etc.

  18. zen Says:

    Chicago Boyz is a partisan site and you will get the kind of generalizations against the Left there that the Left regularly uses against the Right, say at Newshoggers.com (to point to my blogroll) or other places thoroughly dominated by Democratic partisans or progressives. If we eliminated such generalizations from the internet, most of the blogosphere would disappear.

  19. War: The Control of Pattern « The Image Says:

    […] War: The Control of Pattern Filed under: Connection — larrydunbar @ 2:33 pm Yesterday, February 19, 2010, 8:53:45 PM | Joseph Fouche […]

  20. lolchicagoboyz Says:

    zen that’s a tu quoque fallacy. Just because batshit insane left wingers act in a certain way doesn’t make it ok for right wingers to act in a similar manner. Oh, and lol@the blogosphere disappearing. HEAVEN FORBID that the collective faulty generalizations and ideological delusions of thousands of bloggers were to disappear from internet discourse.

  21. zen Says:

    I’m not defending the practice or predicting the end of the blogosphere. I’m observing that such partisanship has become commonplace, virtually the norm. For me, such predispositions would interfere with analysis and I try, not always successfully, to remain more objective.
    It sounds like you have had some run-ins with Shannon at CB, unfortunately I can’t really shed any light on him as I’ve never met Shannon nor corresponded with him. Jonathan, the site administrator, lets each individual blogger there decide how to handle comments on their posts. Shannon is inclined to argue with contrary views. Lexington Green likes to aggressively delete comments that are off-topic. I take a laissez-faire approach and sometimes do not respond at all there.

  22. Lexington Green Says:

    "Chicago Boyz is a partisan site"
    ChicagoBoyz is an aggregation of individuals each of whom has a distinct voice, though the contributors generally have a libertarian or conservative perspective.  Most people who post on CB are not partisan in the sense of being strong supporters of any particular political party.  Their is no editorial control over the individual bloggers on CB.  Each is responsible for his or her own posts. 

  23. zen Says:

    Lex framed Chicago Boyz with greater accuracy than I did.
    By "partisan" I meant "generally conservative with some focus on politics" which is not the primary topical focus of ZP

  24. onparkstreet Says:

    I don’t want to take the thread too far off topic, but what is wrong with being a partisan? We live in a Republic, we are free men and women, many of us believe in a certain political philosophy, and so, we meet online, or whatever, to talk about issues of mutual interest. A partisan site may be of good quality or bad, or anything in-between. I always say that I hope to be an honest partisan: here is what I believe and what I think, and oh, what do YOU think about what I just said? If you make a good argument, I hope I’ll listen. I don’t always, but, you know, I’m human and fallible and all that.
    Also, CB – where I have begun contributing – recently had a disagreement in the comments section about the Iraq War. Regular posters and commenters disagreed and there were many opinions. It’s a site where the regulars don’t always agree!
    – Madhu

  25. Notional Slurry » links for 2010-02-24 Says:

    […] zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Lone Wolf Terrorism "Deep-down, the real issue for officials is that they are squeamish that Stack may have scored a rhetorical point or two about elite behavior and oligarchical economic policies in his otherwise unhinged, online rant. Evading the truth makes for bad policies." (tags: terrorism politics propaganda sanity Civil-War civil-discourse) […]

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