Joe Stack and the IRS: the Christian Libertarian Response

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Jay Janner of the Austin American Statesman


From an
Austin resident and Christian libertarian

On February
18, 2010, Joe Stack set the final plan of his life in motion. At
roughly 9:00 a.m., he burned his house down, traumatizing his wife
and child. By 9:40 a.m., Stack had departed from the Georgetown
airport 21 miles from his home in his Piper Cherokee PA 28 airplane.
At 9:56 a.m., he crashed
this plane
into an IRS office near the intersection of Mopac
Boulevard and U.S. Route 183 in Austin, Texas, ending his own life,
killing two individuals, seriously wounding others, and causing
immeasurable grief to many more.

On behalf
of the libertarian community in Austin, I want to offer our most
sincere condolences and prayers for the victims and their families.
Our hearts go out to you.

Joe Stack was
a disturbed individual. His motivation for violence was outlined
on his personal webpage,
(the site has been temporarily taken offline, but you can see an
archived page here).
Apparently, he was angry at the government, and in particular at
the Internal Revenue Service, for their part in causing his financial
ruin. He wrote about his painful history of personal economic distress
and how tax laws had left him with little to live on. He had
been treated unfairly, just as any taxpayer has been. Nevertheless,
though his anger was justifiable, his actions most certainly were
not. It was not an act of self-defense, but rather distinctly criminal.
In my opinion, he may have simply gone insane. Rational people do
not believe that crashing a plane into a building will bring about
deeply sought change.

For many Americans,
this will confirm in their minds that people who hold anti-government
ideas are altogether crazy and delusional. Let us as libertarians
be perfectly clear: we do not condone aggression such as this whatsoever.
Let us be the first to condemn this violent behavior. For that matter,
let us be the first to condemn all institutionalized violence as
well, for what else is the
but organized violence? Stack was just as much a victim
of the evils of government as anyone, but this fact does not give
him, nor anyone else, the right to kill others in response.

We have already
begun to see comments after news articles decrying "tea
party nutjobs
" or even libertarians as a whole. Please,
friends, do not think that Joe Stack's actions are representative
of true libertarians at all. We wish to be peaceful voices for peace.
We do not believe our good ends — ending the coercive State — justify
our means. More violence is not the answer.

Those of us
who consider ourselves Christian libertarians will be even more
quick to say that Stack's actions were nothing short of evil. Let
us recall Jesus and the tax collector Zacchaeus from Luke
. Zacchaeus was likely a far more aggressive person (if
our understanding of history is near accurate at all) than anyone
in that building, and yet Jesus still entered his house and ate
with him. Doing so put Jesus in a position of immense vulnerability
to the violence of the state. Tax collectors in Jesus' day had the
power to destroy people outright. Yet Jesus was humble enough to
show compassion to "tax collectors and sinners" and his
very presence inspired a profound change of heart in Zacchaeus.
Jesus even called Matthew, another tax collector, to be one of his
twelve apostles (Matthew
). We want to exhibit that same kind of compassion towards
those who commit aggression against us.

And for any
modern-day "tax collectors" reading this, consider the
response of Zacchaeus and Matthew. Are you ready to abandon the
use of force and follow Jesus?

Murray Rothbard
says it eloquently: the State is "a
bandit gang writ large
." As libertarians, we seek to end
the institutionalized violence of the State. We envision a society
characterized by voluntary interaction between individuals, where
aggression is criminal and exceptional rather than commonplace and
accepted. But, you may wonder, how can we possibly achieve such
a society? How can we quell the cycle of violence?

Any lasting
change requires changing ourselves first. Surely, more violence
cannot be the means for resolving violence. We must refuse to condone
this system that continually brings about strife. We do not need
merely a new Congress or president, but a philosophical revolution
brought about using the means of peace. Philosophical revolution
brought forth at gunpoint is worth very little, but through persuasion
and reason hearts and minds are transformed.

This is not
an easy task; in fact we may never see the defeat of the State in
our lifetimes. It is not as though we can fly a plane into the Death
Star and end the Galactic Empire in one fell swoop. To truly defeat
the State, we must see a drastic shift in public ideology and morality.
Nothing else could possibly work! Those who love liberty have been
on the losing side for thousands of years, and we will continue
to lose until society abandons its love of institutional violence.
Unlike Joe Stack, who said, "Violence not only is the answer,
it is the only answer," we know better. Violence is
ultimately the greatest enemy; let us not take on the same characteristics
of the State that we oppose so much.

May we never
forget that we will accomplish our goals by being men and women
of peace, not war.

thanks to Anthony
for helping me form these thoughts.

22, 2010

Norman Horn
[send him mail]
is a graduate student in Chemical Engineering at the University
of Texas at Austin and studies theology at the Austin Graduate School
of Theology. He can frequently be found writing on his blog,,
which focuses on the intersections of liberty and the Christian
faith. He is also active in the UT-Austin
Libertarian Longhorns and Young Americans for Liberty
and was a recent nominee for Student of the Year by Students
for Liberty

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