By: Jackie Jones
ABOVE PHOTO: Vernon Hunter and his wife Valerie Hunter pose for a photo. Investigators say Joe Stack on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010, crashed his plane into the building that houses IRS offices in Austin, Texas, killing himself and Vernon Hunter.
(AP Photo/Hunter Family Photo courtesy Cook-Walden Funeral Home)
When Joseph Andrew Stack crashed his plane into an IRS building in Texas Thursday morning, leaving behind a ranting letter against the government indicating that taxes ruined him financially, some people wrote him off as deranged. Others, including his daughter, Samantha Bell, called him a hero for standing up to the government.
What a growing number of people are now saying, however, is that Stack was a domestic terrorist and his behavior shouldn’t be dismissed as a bizarre accident caused by a troubled man.
And while Stack occupied the national spotlight for several days after the crash, the attention focused on Vernon Hunter, an African-American IRS employee who was the only person killed in the attack, was largely left to local coverage in Austin, where the incident occurred.
The blog Hip-Hop and Politics excoriated the mainstream media for what it described as milquetoast coverage and attack pundits who hailed Stack as an everyman-with-a-cause but said nary a word about Hunter.
Ken Hunter, Vernon Hunter’s son, refuted Bell’s earlier statement, saying Stack’s not the hero in this situation, but his father is.
“How can you call someone a hero after he burns down his house, gets into his plane … and drives it into the building to kill people?” Hunter told “Good Morning America.” “My ‘dad’ Vernon did two tours of duty in Vietnam. My dad’s a hero.”
Bell, Stack’s daughter from his first marriage, said in an earlier “GMA” interview she believed her father was a hero for standing up for his beliefs.
In a telephone interview that ran on “Good Morning America Monday,” however, Bell who lives in Norway said “(Stack’s) last actions, the suicide, the catastrophe that caused injuries and death, that was wrong.”
“But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice,” she added, “then nothing will ever be accomplished. But I do not agree with his last action with what he did. But I do agree about the government.”
Lots of people agreed with Bell, or more precisely, with Stack.
“Extremist groups are already aligning behind [Joe Stack], beginning to talk about him as a hero,” Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies American militia and hate groups, told ABC News. “The growth of those groups has been astounding.”
Stack left behind a long, angry suicide note ranting against the IRS and the federal government that was posted on a Web site the morning of his death.
“I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different,” Stack wrote at ts conclusion. “I am finally ready to stop this insanity.
Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”
Alex Melen, president and founder of T35, the network service provider for the site where the note was posted, said it got about 20 million hits before it was taken down at the request of the FBI.
Melen told ABC that within minutes, the company was “bombarded” with thousands of e-mails demanding Stack’s note be reposted.
Meanwhile, in Austin on last Sunday, hundreds of friends and member of Great Mount Zion Baptist church gathered to mourn Hunter, the only building employee not to get out alive.
“I really can’t describe how I felt,” Ethelwood Currie, Hunter’s close friend and fellow church usher, told KXAN-TV. “I was just empty. I remember going to my office and just sitting there crying.”
Hunter was active in his church, serving as an usher and a counselor in the marriage ministry. He also helped with the food pantry, the station reported.
And his family, in a statement, expressed compassion for Stack’s family.
“We are not angry at them because they did not do this,” the statement said. “We forgive Joe for his actions, which took Vern’s ‘pound of flesh’ with him,” referring to the phrase in Stack’s suicide letter.