Saturday, February 20, 2010

LTG 02/20/10 - How can that not be terrorism?

I’m going to need some help with this. A man flies a plane into a building with the express intent of making a political statement, and it’s not terrorism?

Last week, an angry Joseph Stack posted a long anti-government diatribe on his blog, set fire to his house, and flew a small plane into an Austin, Texas, building containing the local office of the Internal Revenue Service. As of this column’s writing, two people (in addition to Stack) were killed in the attack, with a third person missing.

Of course, seeing the crawl on the bottom of a TV screen that says “plane crashes into building” brings back the inevitable, horrifying memories of 9/11. I know when I first heard the news of Stack’s attack, I had the same knot in my stomach I felt watching the Twin Towers fall.

So, I was more than a little confused when, later that day, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the incident didn’t “appear” to be a terrorist attack.

Excuse me?

Gibbs went on to say that there didn’t seem to be any link between al Qaeda or any similar group and the attack on the IRS building. As if that’s supposed to make anyone feel better.

I’m not sure why this is so complicated. Terrorism is the act of using violence to instill fear into a populace in an attempt to achieve a political end.

So, let’s see. Stack was very, very angry at the IRS in specific and the Federal tax code in general, and wanted to see it changed. Political end, check. Use of violence, check. Instilling fear into a populace, check.

Having “Mohammed” or “bin-something-or-other” in his name? No check there, so it must not be terrorism.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that we’ve all been very effectively programmed to think that terrorism = Muslim. Let’s face it, we had a presidential administration that pounded that into our heads starting about September 14, 2001, and continues to do so to this day. Obviously, that type of fear-mongering is effective.

Unfortunately, thanks to the legacy of the Bush administration, whether something is “terrorist” or not has significant consequences. If the government calls you a terrorist, then they can lock you away without any Constitutional rights, keep you locked away as long as they want, and torture you if they feel like it.

So, we couldn’t possibly call Stack a terrorist, because if we did then we’d have to treat him like we treat the people in Guantanamo. And, sadly enough, the American public might look very differently at a white American citizen being waterboarded.

It’s not like we haven’t had acts of domestic terrorism recently. Remember Scott Roeder? He walked into a Kansas church and assassinated Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions. Roeder killed Tiller for the express purpose of making a political statement and to use fear to stop other doctors from performing abortions.

Was he treated like a terrorist, renditioned by the military to a secret prison and tortured? Nope. He was treated like what he was, a criminal, and has been convicted of murder and is facing the justice he deserves. Just the way Richard Reed, the “shoe bomber” and Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber” was. Both of those guys were given all their Constitutional rights, were convicted, and now languish in a SuperMax prison. And, amazingly enough, they haven’t used the superpowers some in the GOP apparently believe they possess to break out and destroy Manhattan.

If you saw any of the town hall meetings about health care this summer, you’ve seen the face of irrational, terrified anger. We’ve seen that irrational, terrified anger explode into two acts of domestic terrorism in the last eight months. We’ve seen people making lots of money appearing on television stoking the fires of that irrational, terrified anger (looking right at you, Glenn Beck).

So, the next time you hear someone take to the airwaves or to the Senate floor decrying the concept of applying the rule of law to Gitmo prisoners, ask yourself this question. Do you think these people would be saying the same thing if the target of their venom was a fifty-something white guy instead of a Muslim? Do you think the people supporting them would be as rabid if they realized the people getting waterboarded looked and sounded like them?

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