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The Difference Between a Terrorist and Someone Who Flies a Plane Into a Building

Posted on Mar 12, 2010
AP / Jack Plunkett

Andrew Joseph Stack flew a plane into this building because he was angry at the IRS.

By Reese Erlich

There seems to be some confusion about who are the real terrorists these days. Allow me to shed some light on the issue.

John Patrick Bedell was angry at the totalitarian federal government that had devastated public education, private property rights and monetary policy, so he shot two security guards at the Pentagon. He was not a terrorist.

Andrew Joseph Stack flew a small plane into a building housing an office of the Internal Revenue Service in Austin, Texas, killing one IRS worker and injuring 13 people in the structure. Earlier that day, Stack wrote a diatribe on his Web page against the IRS and the federal government. “Violence not only is the answer,” he wrote, “it is the only answer.” Stack was not a terrorist.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist of Palestinian origin, opened fire on fellow soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 and wounding 29. He strongly opposed U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a terrorist.

At first there may be some confusion about these designations, but there are clear differences among the three cases. The first two violent attacks were carried out as political protests by white conservatives angry at the federal government for taking over their rights. The third was carried out by an Arab-American Muslim angry at the federal government for taking over other people’s rights.


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America’s major media understand this distinction. They quickly explained that the first two cases were deranged individuals not part of any wider conspiracy. Three days after the Pentagon attack, The New York Times wrote that Bedell had been living with his parents and “seemed to slide into a deep paranoia.” The paper reassured us that “federal authorities said there was no indication that Mr. Bedell had a connection to any domestic or international terrorist group.”

On the day of the attack against the IRS, The Wall Street Journal conveyed the comforting news that federal workers had not been victims of terrorism. “I consider this a criminal act by a lone individual,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.

The major media offered a split opinion on Maj. Hasan. Some went with the “deranged loner” theory. Thank God that Fox News kept up the pressure on President Barack Obama and the liberal media to label it a terrorist attack. As Sen. Joe Lieberman pointed out on Fox, “There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and therefore that this was a terrorist act.”

Lieberman correctly understands that extremism comes only from the Muslim world, not right-wing white people with persecution complexes and semiautomatic weapons.

There seems to be similar confusion about international extremists. The extremists of al-Qaida intentionally kill civilians in an effort to win political goals. They are terrorists.

The U.S.-funded Afghan mujahedeen fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s intentionally targeted university professors, movie theaters and cultural events. The U.S.-trained Nicaraguan Contras intentionally killed teachers and health workers in order to overthrow the Sandinista government in the 1980s. Both these groups were freedom fighters.

America is besieged by enemies and we should be afraid. For decades this country faced the communist menace. I remember as an elementary school student hiding under my desk to protect myself against a Soviet nuclear attack and invasion. Today we face a far greater threat from Muslim terrorists. Thank goodness today’s children have much larger desks.

I hope this clears up the confusion about exactly who is a terrorist. Remember, consistency is the core principle of American national security policy.

Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich is author of the forthcoming book “Conversations With Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire.”

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G.Anderson's avatar

By G.Anderson, March 13, 2010 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

Clearly it’s difficult to come to the right conclusions when you lack the intellectual tools to understand.

Our government uses terror daily, to intimidate its enemies, and suppress the citizenry who are made aware almost daily of the lethality of the government in action.

E.V. Walter in his classic work “Terror and Resistance”, concludes that all governments legitimatize the use of terror, and legally wield it, to the exclusion of all others in society. And that further, this exclusivity to use violence is the basis of government itself.

But when government uses violence, it is never called that, despite the fact that there are millions in jail here, and despite the ready access of police to deadly force. The use of Terror by government is described by Walter as… ” the use of terror is the order of the day, and they consciously design a pattern of violence to produce the social behavior they demand “.

So that when the citizenry of a state begin to utilize violence as a way of seeking political redress, it begins to threaten the government, buy usurping its ability to use terror for social control. The results of the attacks were plain for all to see, death and destruction. Yet each attack conveyed something else as well, that death was preferable to the current social order. 

This presents a problem for government, like no other, because it means that goverments ability to coerce people into compliance is no longer effective, and it creates confusion in the populace as a whole, because people no longer know who to fear, and exactly who to obey in order to be secure.

Logically then the government must label acts of violence against it, as pathological, it can do nothing else.

When people kill themselves because they can no longer take it, we view this as pathological. Yet when people identify, the source of their misery as out side themselves and take action, we typically put them on trial as criminals. 

However, this presents a problem for governments during times of insurrection, for the threat of violence can be used by both sides. Death itself can no longer be a threat to people who are not afraid to die, only those who have everything to live for.

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, March 13, 2010 at 10:16 am Link to this comment

Four legs good, two legs bad - or is it the other way ‘round ?...


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By Spocko, March 13, 2010 at 9:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, March 13, 2010 at 7:52 am Link to this comment

“Terrorism” has evolved into a buzzword by the media and parroted in the corridors of power to evoke fear in the populace.

The sensationalism of individual psychotic acts by the media are used by politicians to usher in a loss of personal freedoms which enevitably enable a police state.

I doubt any of the “terrorists” which the media touts as boogy men (and women) and must be held off our shore would last long in the U.S. prison system.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 13, 2010 at 7:52 am Link to this comment

ardee, March 13 at 7:59 am:
‘The real question about this article is whether sarcasm translates well enough in this media. ...’

In my experience, no.  But in this case I don’t think a straightforward lecture on the curious usage of the word terrorism would do any good, either.  The need for an enemy and the need to call the enemy bad names is as old as bands of primates jumping up and down and hooting at one another.  It isn’t going to go away any time soon.

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johnnyfarout's avatar

By johnnyfarout, March 13, 2010 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

I’m recalling when first hearing this term, “war on terror”, in the media when BushCo fabricated it. My first thought was, “uhoh, we’ll be sending American troops to Northern Ireland to help in that 800 year resistance against that British/Norman invasion”; and, “uhoh, we’ll be sending troops out the front gates of all 1,000 military bases around the world to quell every organized movement with a consciousness of the true state of affairs in the world today!” “Look out world…here comes whitey with his black and brown slave troops, making the world safer for the empire of North American business!” The big secret is that there is no AlQueda! …duh. We live in a miasma of lies. We’re all terrorists now…take off your shoes, and the ones on your little dog, too. You need to see a doctor? Let’s see your financial statement, buddy. “It costs a lot of bucks to keep me here shoving this gun in your face and making you safe!” So here it is ten years later and suddenly the first thoughts turn out to be true. It’s all crimes on a grand scale and fighting back is a military act of conspiracy labeled “terror”, of course unless you are a whitey, then you just went bad and screwy in the head.

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By zing, March 13, 2010 at 7:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am interested in this thing you call the “liberal media”.  It sounds as if my interests would be fairly considered on this form of media.  I have found some places on the Internet that might fall under that category, but away from the Internet, I have so far failed to find any liberal news other than on Comedy Central, which appears to be the only actual news network.  Fox News does make me embarrassed to be a United States citizen, but at least terrorist leader Glenn Beck has apologized for wasting your time.

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By Burt Raabe, March 13, 2010 at 7:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a counselor, I see these acts through a different lens.  Bedell was a schizophrenic.  His actions were the result of paranoid delusions and could have been carried out against anyone. Stack was someone who felt he had lost all control over his life.  We can look in the newspaper every day and see a suicide or act of violence by previously “normal” people in this situation. Hasan had shown signs of instability for a long time and the military had ignored it. He went “postal” but it just so happens he was a Muslim in the military.  Or maybe these were all demonic possession

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By Inherit The Wind, March 13, 2010 at 6:37 am Link to this comment

See, I have NO problem calling McVeigh and Nichols or Eric Rudolf “terrorists”.  Nor do I have a problem calling Stack or Hasan or the Holocaust Museum shooter terrorists.  I might question whether Colin Fergusson (The LIRR shooter) or the Virginia Tech shooter are “Terrorists”, and certainly whether Dr. Amy Wilson is.

But as I think about it: Does being a “terrorist” imply there must be a plot behind it? (I don’t think this conflicts with my previous definitions of “terrorism”, merely refines it).  If so, then Stack and Hasan may not be terrorists, simply lone murderers.  Maybe my original assessment of Stack as a terrorist is NOT correct, although I still think him a stinkin’ murderer.

Certainly, the Right Wing thinks you can only be a “terrorist” if you are Moslem and have been part of radical fundamentalist Islamic groups.

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By Sneaky Hobo, March 13, 2010 at 4:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ah, alright. So when OUR government or organizations kill innocents to overthrow a country, they’re called freedom fighters. But when ANOTHER country or organization kills innocents to overthrow OUR country, it’s called Terrorism.

So what evidence do you have PERSONALLY that says that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was apart of any Islamic extremist activity? Not everyone in America is patriotic, and it’s something you must take into consideration before consenting to news media.

Way to perpetuate the Us-versus-them. Great job. People shouldn’t be afraid, as fear leads people into submission. To be afraid of opposition is to accept that they have made an impact on your life on a personal level. What people must strive for is truth and common ground. Question every little fact you hear, and never take anything for granted.

Before you go about posting similar articles, you need to stop and really think about what you’re writing. You know at one point, journalism was considered extremist, too. smile Now it’s just a damn rerun of Fox News.

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By ardee, March 13, 2010 at 3:59 am Link to this comment

The real question about this article is whether sarcasm translates well enough in this media.

That the designation of “terrorist” is used dependent upon ethnic and political considerations seems true enough. That it is used to control our population through fear seems also a valid point to consider, I think.

This is one reason I have resisted calling Stark or Bedell terrorists, the designation is no longer a valid one ,at least to me. Even Major Hasan, a man with connections to so-called terrorist organizations seems more deranged than acting with cold and clear political logic.

Is AlQaeda an organization dedicated to murder and mayhem because of a distorted and extreme religious conviction or one whose goal is ridding the Middle East of the influence and control of the West by the only means at their disposal?

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By Andy, March 13, 2010 at 3:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wasn’t Timothy Mcvay referred as a terrorist? I believe the “unabomber” was referred to as a terrorist as well, though on that I’m not as certain. The Shoebomber has also been widely referred to as a terrorist as well.

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