How Reaganism Turned Ray Rosenberry & Joe Stack Into Terrorists

Rightwing billionaires have robbed & pillaged America. Sadly, the future Rosenberrys and Stacks won't hear this listening to AM radio or Fox “News.”  So we live in increasingly dangerous times...


They are the new faces of American terrorism.

Floyd Ray Rosenberry and Joe Stack both grew up in an America before the neoliberal austerity and tax-cut policies of Reaganism gutted our country. They both mourned the loss of the middle-class prosperity of that time in America and looked to rightwing commentary to make sense of it all. They then both turned to terrorism.

Rosenberry — the guy who drove his truck into Washington, DC yesterday and threatened to blow up part of the city — complained in his live Facebook feed that he was there in part because he and his wife were being screwed by America’s unique for-profit health insurance industry while healthcare and jobs were being diverted from good white Americans like him to dark-skinned “illegals.”

“They keep allowing these illegal Mexicans in here,” he told folks on Facebook, echoing voices on rightwing hate radio and TV. “All these illegal immigrants from Afghanistan. You don’t have free health care for us. You’re f***ing giving it to them.”

He’d posted memes on Facebook from racists like Donald Trump Jr and voted, for the first time in his life according to his wife, for white supremacist Donald Trump. 

White people in distress like Rosenberry are uniquely vulnerable to rightwing demagogues like Donald Trump, particularly when they’re told that a dark-skinned “they” are responsible for their economic woes or loss of status. 

He believed Trump when he said that “the system is rigged” and refugees want to murder and rape white women, and that Trump and his rich friends were going to “drain the swamp” and restore the glory days of America’s white working class.

He seems to have particularly bonded with Trump’s racism.

“Joe Biden, the South is fed up,” Rosenberry said, going into an extended rant about how his doctor just said his insurance company would no longer pay for the pain shots in his back and wouldn’t pay for his wife’s facial skin cancer treatments because they’d determined they were “cosmetic” — because in his mind that healthcare is, as he said, instead going to brown-skinned “illegals.”

Rosenberry is just the most recent in a long line of white formerly-middle-class people Reaganism has broken who were then recruited by rightwingers with racist memes. Altogether too many of them are turning to terrorism as a remedy, as the FBI has been highlighting ever since Tim McVeigh — another of these guys — blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killing 168 people, 19 of them children, and injuring 680.

Joe Stack, in February of 2010, woke up in his cozy middle-class neighborhood, set his home on fire, then drove to the local airport just outside Austin, Texas. 

He hopped in his single-engine Piper Dakota airplane, took off from Georgetown Municipal airport and minutes later, like a missile, dove his plane right into a glass-façade office building named Echelon 1 that housed a local IRS tax collection office, instantly killing himself and an I.R.S. agent and Black Vietnam Veteran named Vernon Hunter who was working at his desk in the building.

When the American economy went into meltdown with the Bush Crash of 2008, working-class people (of all races) like Joe Stack were hit hard.  He was a software engineer who watched his clients and income dry up, yet he didn’t get a bailout like Wall Street. 

His bills piled up, he sunk into debt, and the taxman was knocking down the door.  Uncle Sam needed to bail out billionaires and hundred-billion-dollar transnational corporations — many of which, coincidentally, paid no American corporate income taxes — but they had nothing for Joe.

To make matters worse, from Joe’s point of view, talk radio voices complained that Black and Hispanic Americans were “living on welfare” that was unavailable to a white formerly-middle-class homeowner like him.

Joe appeared calm on the surface, a regular guy who lived in a run-of-the-mill middle-class home on Dapplgrey Lane in North Austin.  He played guitar in a local band.  But there were clues: he named his band “Last Straw” and his only album was titled “Over the Edge.” 

There was a quiet desperation consuming Joe Stack, and he was nearing a breaking point.  “[Joe] seemed like one of us ducks floating down the river,” Stack’s brother said, “We just didn't realize he was paddling so furiously under the water.”

Eventually, Joe Stack got tired of paddling.  That’s when he resorted to becoming the nation’s first suicide bomber. 

“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,” wrote Stack in his manifesto.  “I am finally ready to stop this insanity.”

At that time, the best chance Americans of all races had to peaceably change their broken political and economic system was through free and fair democratic elections.  But one month before Stack’s fateful flight, the Supreme Court took that option off the table with their Citizens United decision that, for the first time in American history, legalized political bribery.

John F. Kennedy warned us, at that time in the context of the Civil Rights movement, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

As Stack wrote in his suicide letter, “I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be whitewashed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt.  It will take nothing less.”

Rosenberry’s terrorist rant and sim-attack on the Capitol was a similar plea and, ironically, comes the same day the Center for Economic and Policy Research published new data showing that if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation — something that stopped with the Reagan Revolution — it would be around $26 an hour right now.

And if we had Medicare For All, the medical bills that buried Rosenberry and his wife wouldn’t exist: both would have gotten the help they need and neither would be deeply in debt. Just ask any Canadian.

Rosenberry and Stack were right about how much we actually do need a revolution against Reaganomics and the devastation it’s wrought across the American landscape, reversing the damage it’s done to every race and economic group except the top 1%. 

Sadly, both men had been listening to the counter-revolutionaries — the mouthpieces for America’s rightwing billionaires and largest corporations — who told them that cutting taxes on the morbidly rich would “trickle down” and that their troubles were because “those people [of color]” were making off with what was once theirs.  

Nobody bothered to tell Rosenberry and Stack that they were being robbed by a white rightwing billionaire class intent on owning almost everything. 

It’s like the old 1930s cartoon of the billionaire, the white working class guy and the Black working class guy, sitting together at a table. The billionaire has a huge plate of cookies in front of him, the white guy has one cookie and the Black guy has none.

“Psssst!” the billionaire leans over and whispers to the white guy. “That Black guy wants your cookie!”

When JFK became president, top CEO salaries rarely exceeded $3 million a year.  As the economists at CEPR wrote yesterday, “The picture would look very different [today] if CEOs got paid $2-$3 million, as would be the case if we had the same pay ratios between CEOs and ordinary workers as in the 1960s.” 

But Reagan’s obscene tax cuts lowered the top rate from 74% to 25%, slashed corporate taxes, gutted the estate tax and drilled thousands of special-interest loopholes into the tax code. It started an estimated $7 trillion transfer of wealth from working class people to the top 1 percent.

George W. Bush added his own trillions of dollars in tax cuts that sped up the transfer of wealth from people like Rosenberry and Stack to obscenely rich oligarchs like Bush’s own dynastic family and the Trumps. 

And then Trump himself gifted his morbidly rich buddies with another $2 trillion in just one year, all borrowed on our national credit card and all still in place, further draining American resources that could otherwise be used for housing, education and healthcare.

Meanwhile, the multimillionaire hosts on billionaire-owned rightwing media continue to blame all the ills of America on immigrants and people of color.

As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.”

Rightwing billionaires have been robbing and pillaging our nation ever since Lewis Powell started organizing them and then, put on the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, authored the Bellotti decision that set up Citizens United and legalized political bribery by corporations. Thus began the Reagan Revolution and the destruction of the mostly-white American middle class.

Tragically for America, that’s not a message that future Rosenberrys and Stacks will ever hear if they just listen to AM radio or Fox “News.”  As a result, we live in increasingly dangerous times.