Tax tragedy in Texas

Saturday Feb. 20, 2010
Posted 8 a.m. EDT

I don't agree with what he did, but ...

It didn't take long for that phrase to start showing up after Joseph Stack plowed his private plane into an Austin, Texas, office building where an IRS office was located.

When I heard the news that an aircraft had hit a building not far from where I live, my first thought was that a pilot trying to make an emergency landing on the adjacent highway had misjudged terribly. I could not imagine that the lunatic fringe had struck so violently in my hometown.

Then I read Stack's suicide note, or as some are calling it, his manifesto. I'm not going to go into his claims in that document; to do so would give his rantings more merit than they deserve.

Suffice it to say that a man who claimed to want to take responsibly for his own life spent seven pages of text spreading blame for his troubles on not just the IRS agents auditing him, but also the tax code itself, politicians of both major parties, accountants, organized religion, big business and countless other individuals and entities he perceived as aligned against him and success.

To that, I say ... well, I can't say what I want to say here.

But what disturbs me nearly as much is the reaction to Stack's violence. While there are plenty of folks stunned, horrified, disgusted and angry about his act, there also are many who have become apologists for the death and destruction he caused.

There is no rationalization or excusing what Stack did. He killed one IRS employee and injured more than a dozen other people who worked in the office building. He destroyed his family. He terrorized not only the city I call home, but to some degree, the whole country.

And why? Because he had tax problems. His two main complaints were against a 1986 tax code change affecting his profession as a software engineer and his personal audit issues.

The Section 1706 regulations, created to help IBM, have made it difficult for information technology professionals to work as self-employed individuals. And yes, audits caused him emotional and fiscal distress.

But neither excuse, and that's what they are, can justify violence. I fear, however, that Stack's final words will be selectively edited and used by anti-tax and quasi-political fringe groups to further their causes.

In addition to the relatively moderate bloggers and Internet chat room participants who prefaced their comments with "I don't agree," even more have come out of the extremist woodwork to make Stack a martyr for their anti-government, anti-tax causes. In Internet chat rooms, his deluded destruction was praised as a patriotic act against an oppressive system. Fan pages sprung up on Facebook.

That, folks, is almost as disturbing as what Stack did. And it's just flat out wrong.

Stack's rants were, politically, all over the map. And he didn't go down taking innocent people with him in the name of any group. He does, however, strike some of the same notes sung by tax protesters.

A key anti-IRS message is that the tax system is unfair, so protesters say they're not going to follow it. That apparently was a choice Stack made. Going further, tax protesters contend that paying taxes is voluntary, as is the filing of a return. Stack also made the no pay, no file choice.

So look for tax protesters to claim Stack as one of their own. But don't believe it.

While both Stack and those who continue to espouse frivolous arguments against the tax system are all misguided, sometimes horribly so, Stack's act was what's been dubbed Entitlement Terrorism: I don't deserve what's happening to me, so I'm going to lash out in the most destructive way available.

He was one sad, disturbed man who did a horrible thing. That Stack's inability to deal rationally with his personal tax life is being lauded by the anti-tax factions just makes what happened up the road from me Thursday morning all the more tragic.

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