Newsweek editors and reporters discuss the use of the word “terrorist” and essentially conclude that it’s mostly applicable to foreigners with beards. The conversation is an off-shoot of the story of the IRS “protestor” (as the Wall Street Journal designated him) who flew his plane into an IRS building because he didn’t like paying taxes. That guy’s daughter got a spot on Good Morning America to laud her “hero” father — although she admitted that his decision to fly a plane into a building was “inappropriate,” but “Now maybe people will have to listen” when it comes to the whole taxes-are-bad thing. (Smirky sidenote: She lives in Norway). Newly-elected Republican goldenboy Scott Brown commented that, yeah, flying planes into buildings isn’t very nice, but “people are frustrated” and “no one likes paying taxes” — plane-man just wanted greater political accountability! He was frustrated with the U.S. government’s unjust infringement on what he believed to be rightfully his. Unlike the brown people who fly planes into buildings. They’re just mad at our freedoms.
Some folks at Newsweek point out that the Underpants Bomber is more of a terrorist because he’s affiliated with a foreign terror network; the Fort Hood shooter is a terrorist too because, although he wasn’t formally affiliated with any network, he may have talked to a guy who was affiliated with terrorists. But I find Devin Gordon’s take on the media’s hesitance to use the t-word for IRS Guy to be the most convincing:
I continue to be fascinated by the divergent reactions between Austin Wacko and Underpants Man, and I think it goes much deeper than the taxonomy of what is a “terrorist.” (One simple reason: Tiger Woods didn’t step on the Underpants saga the very next day. Sigh.)
Fundamentally, I’m with Dan: a Texan white guy named Joe Stack isn’t as interesting / enraging / anxiety-inducing as a Nigerian Muslim named Abdulmutallab. I’m also with Eve: Stack’s philosophy, unlike Abdulmutallab’s, is pretty kosher with many — maybe even most — Americans. We’re basically with him right up to the burn-down-your-house-and-fly-a-plane-into-a-building part of the story. Other than that part, right on, Joe Stack! (Heck, newly minted Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown all but said as much in a very clumsy TV appearance about this story the day after it happened.)
But I’m most intrigued by a couple of things Mike suggested. First, that Abdulmutallab’s actions fit into a much larger terrorism narrative that has stretched out for years, resulted in ongoing wars and decided presidential elections. Isolated, Underpants Man’s actions are surely milder than Stack’s — it still amazes me that a man flying a plane into a building doesn’t make us flinch much more — but Stack’s actions are just that: isolated.
Then again, what if they aren’t? That’s the other thing that intrigued me about what Mike wrote: “The FBI gets skittish when you ask what they do about domestic terrorist groups because they clearly realize that the line between domestic terrorist and political dissident can sometimes be a blurry one.” One thing that could’ve stretched out this Austin Wacko story out quite a bit longer is if the mainstream media had been bolder about connecting it to the larger anti-tax political phenomenon in this country today: the Tea Party. But most of us weren’t willing to go there. Why? Because we are perceived as being dismissive and condescending toward the movement — OK, we *are* dismissive and condescending toward the movement. In short, we tend to treat them like wackos and we are gun-shy about going the full Monty and suggesting they are this close to being *violent* wackos. The FBI is skittish about that blurry line, and so is the media. Better to leave it alone and move onto Tiger Woods. Hey, how about THAT guy, huh?
We see the same thing with anti-abortion violence. Anti-choicers bomb and set fire to clinics, harass patients, and kill doctors as part of an organized movement, but most mainstream media outlets hesitate to qualify those actions as terrorism. Because, you know, those people are just frustrated and I suppose they sometimes act inappropriately in response. Plus they don’t have beards.
To recap: Flying planes into buildings = mostly bad, but maybe a little bit ok if you hate taxes. Definitely all bad if you’re Muslim.
And here I thought “Don’t fly planes into buildings, that is really bad” could be a place where we all found common ground, like Obama has been talking about.
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