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Austin Plane Crasher Mentions ‘Pound of Flesh’

Suicide note may indicate pilot’s anti-Semitism

Marc Tracy
February 18, 2010
(Jana Birchum/Getty Images)
(Jana Birchum/Getty Images)

If you hadn’t heard, a man crashed a small plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, earlier today, killing himself and injuring two people who were in the building. Police are investigating the incident as a crime … in part, no doubt, because of the note that the crasher, who was named Joseph A. Stack III, apparently left behind. (The original note, which he published online, has been taken down, “due to the sensitive nature of the events that transpired in Texas this morning and in compliance with a request from the FBI.”) It is basically a hodgepodge of paranoid, though coherent (at least at the sentence level) ramblings about taxes and America and justice and what-not; a software engineer, Stack reportedly had a history of tax issues. You could find evidence of his being on the extreme right and the extreme left, or just plain crazy.

However, note the final paragraph:

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. 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.

It’s impossible to say whether Stack knew the provenance of the phrase “pound of flesh”— it is the payment Shylock demands in The Merchant of Venice when a debtor cannot pay him back; and since then it has been associated with the stereotype of the greedy, money-grubbing Jew. It’s impossible, in other words, to know at this point whether Stack’s action or at least beliefs (which certainly had to do with money and the grubbing thereof) were at all motivated by anti-Semitism. Stack certainly wouldn’t be the first violent lunatic to harbor such beliefs, though.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.