Pilot's alleged role in Austin plane crash launches online debate

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010; 6:08 PM

As some Texas lawmakers condemned Thursday's attack on an Internal Revenue Service building in Austin as an act of domestic terrorism, online partisans sought to portray alleged attacker A. Joseph Stack as an adherent of their opponents' political views and some, of indeterminate perspective, even hailed the pilot who crashed his Piper Cherokee into the edifice as a hero and a patriot.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) compared the fatal attack to the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. "This was a cowardly act of domestic terrorism," he said Thursday. Asked in Austin if the plane crash had been an act of terrorism, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said, "It sounds like it to me."

Praise for Stack appeared to be largely anonymous, but because it appeared online so rapidly it quickly threaded itself into his Google cache -- popping up on right- and left-wing sites that tried to bat it down, as well as white-supremacist ones that did not take such pains.

"God bless Joe Stack an american hero" a person writing as "summit02," posted on the blog of Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella group for the conservative movement. "Thank you Joe for your heroism in the fight aganist the evil elites. that are destroying america," the person wrote.

On the Web site of the Young Turks, a liberal radio program, "MitchmanTX" proclaimed: "Joe Stack Fallen Patriot - Rest In Peace."

On Thursday, a "True American Hero" Facebook group hailing Stack was quickly deleted. On Friday, the message persisted with the fan page "There should be more people like Joseph Stack" and the group "Joseph Stack: the Patriot." Countering them are the groups "Joseph Andrew Stack is a Terrorist" and "Joseph Andrew Stack is NOT a Hero." Each had fewer than 100 members -- proof of the maxim that online you can find supporters for almost anything, but not necessarily many of them.

An anonymous poster took to the Houston Craiglist Rants & Raves pages with white supremacist and Nazi images along with the message: "JOE STACK DID WHAT MANY OF US DREAM ABOUT BUT NEVER ACT ON! . . . I only wish he had gotten every last one of those low life scum!"

Similar messages appeared on Craigslist in other cities.

Based on postings on white supremacy sites, the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded Friday, "In the hours since a man enraged at the government slammed his small plane into an Austin, Tex., IRS building, white supremacists and their fellow travelers have elevated Joseph Andrew Stack into an icon of resistance to tyranny."

At the site PodBlanc, Stack was praised as a "White American Patriot."

Tea Party supporters seemed particularly aggrieved at the suggestion the anti-tax, anti-big government movement might have created a climate that encouraged Stack's alleged actions. "He is a terrorist. End of story," the leader of the Waco, Tex., chapter of the Tea Party, Toby Marie Walker, told conservative Web site InfoWars. The site is run by Alex Jones, a conservative Austin-based radio host.

Commenters at InfoWars argued that Stack was not a conservative, and may not even have been behind the attack. He "was apparently a very good musician -- who played jazz and Steely Dan music. Doesn't fit the 'white redneck beer-drinkin' rightwing conservative' -- does it? No," wrote "Manipulation media."

"It is always a battle between anarchy and tyranny. Always has been," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told MSNBC on Thursday. He said security measures might be implemented because of the attack.

Some in the Tea Party condemned Stack as an anarchist.

"After reading Mr. Stack's February 18, 2010 statement, it is evident he supported anarchy," said Heather Liggett of the Austin Tea Party in a statement to InfoWars. "The Tea Party movement does not advocate anarchy. The Tea Party movement believes in our founding principles so eloquently written in our Constitution."

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