Sturm und Drang und Stack

The mainstream media and the usual political suspects would rather not deal with Joe Stack all. His final flight damaged more than an Internal Revenue Service building: It shattered a pre-constructed Sturm und Drang narrative, crafted over the course of centuries. That narrative doesn’t and can’t admit to any defect in the nobility of, let alone outright wickedness on the part of, state actors. Nor can it abide the possibility of honesty in response from, or even just plain mental breakdown under stress on the part of, the victims of those actors.

The key feature of the Sturm und Drang narrative is that its protagonist is motivated “not by pursuit of noble means nor by true motives, but by revenge and greed.” In the IRS versus Joe Stack version of that narrative, he must necessarily be a “terrorist” and a “coward.” Only state-approved use of deadly force may be understood as noble; any non-state-approved motive must be fundamentally dishonest.

But words mean things.

A “coward,” for example, is “a person who lacks courage; a timid or pusillanimous person; a poltroon.” As Bill Maher pointed out when the same label was pasted on the 9/11 attackers, “staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”

Applying the “terrorist” label to Stack represents a double bind for the state. Stack targeted his actual enemy, the IRS, not “non-combatants.” If his attack was “terrorism,” then so is every last US military attack on targets occupied by people not wearing military uniforms. If such attacks aren’t “terrorism,” then neither was Stack’s.

Sturm und Drang isn’t and can’t be an honest response to Joe Stack. Whatever one’s estimate of the validity and magnitude of his grievances might be — and as for myself, I can’t help but sympathize with anyone victimized by the IRS, collection/enforcement arm of the largest organized protection racket in human history — his action was the very picture of honesty: One does not offer one’s life as payment for the opportunity to express that which one does not truly believe.

The IRS and its supporters are closing ranks behind the Sturm und Drang response, of course. The widow of the IRS employee killed in Stack’s attack — herself a government tax collector as well — filed suit against Stack’s own widow yesterday, “saying she should have warned others about her husband.” The suit asserts a duty to “avoid a foreseeable risk of injury to others.”

I wonder: How many hours did Valerie Hunter spend on the phone, calling taxpayers at random or from knowledge of pending investigations, to warn them that she or her husband might be coming to inflict injury on them? How many “settlements” did she and her husband extort from victims whose only crime was trying to make a living? How much money and property were she and her husband responsible for the theft of? How many such suits would be filed against her or her employer if the pernicious doctrine of “sovereign immunity” didn’t forbid her victims to seek justice?

In the matter of the state versus Joe Stack, it’s the state (and its employees) to whom the Sturm und Drang narrative properly applies.

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