Resisting the War, One 1040 at a Time (CUNY grad paper Advocate)

this article previously published in 2007 in print and on

Philip Fairbanks

Review of this article from The Picket Line: “

Philip Fairbanks, at the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate brings us an examination of war tax resistance that’s much more in-depth than what you usually see in the papers, though somewhat more sloppily-edited.

It covers the usual bases, but goes much further into the history of war tax resistance, its connection with the Nuremberg Principles, the recent convictions and imprisonments of the Restored Israel of Yahweh resisters, penalty funds, the organized and disorganized war tax resistance movement, boycotts of war profiteers, the “Peace Tax Fund” boondoggle, and my own DON Method.

If only more reporters dug this deep…”

Well researched, deep digging and awful grammar? Yup sounds about like me… Anyway, a rare one from the vaults here. Seeking scans of some of my previous print publications to add here bit by bit as well.

“Let them march all they want as long as they pay their taxes.”

Tax resisters protest outside
the IRS building in Washington, D.C.

This quote, by Alexander Haig, former U.S. Secretary of State, is found on many websites that advocate or explain the phenomenon of war protest known as tax resistance. Underscoring the truth of this is a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year,that would not be as violent and bloody a measure, as it would to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.” The war machine is hungry and depends on astronomical amounts of money to continually wage war.

Although figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget’s 2008 budget report suggest that military expenses comprise only 21% of the federal budget, the War Resister’s League, which produces it’s own annual figures, estimates that the actual figure is much closer to 51%. According to the data released by the War Resister’s League, the big difference between their budget and the federal government’s is that the White House Budget and Management Office does not discriminate between social security funds, which are collected and used separately from the rest of the budget, and federal taxes. In other words, for the federal government, the revenue generated by social security is counted as part of the over all tax, despite the fact that it is collected separately and already earmarked for social services. In addition to this, the budget office does not take into account the cost of ongoing veteran’s benefits from previous wars and the interest on the national debt from previous military spending, which, believe it or not, makes up for a full twenty percent of the annual federal budget. That means that as much as 20% of the taxes we pay each year are spent paying for the costs of previous wars alone. It is in response to figures like these, and what these figures entail — less money for education, less money for health care, etc. — that many war resisters and pacifists decide to go the extra step and become tax resisters: an illegal move that involves a huge amount of conviction and dedication, but which more and more people are choosing to do as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue unabated.

As most people know, conscientious objectors can be freed from military service if they object to the taking of human life for religious or ethical reasons. Every taxpayer, however, willingly or otherwise ends up supporting the building of missiles and bombs. For this reason, there is a long history of war tax resistance. The first official case of war tax resistance in America took place before the United States even existed. In the early 1600’s, the Algonquin Indians opposed funding a Dutch fort by refusing to pay Dutch taxes. During the American Revolution, the Quaker Society of Friends refused to pay taxes and many of them were jailed and had their property seized because of their refusal to fund the war. It is the Indochina war, however, that may be seen as the real starting point of the modern movement of War Tax Resistance. Backed by such socially concerned artists as folk singer Joan Baez, linguist and nonconformist Noam Chomsky, and “beat” legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Indochina war tax resistance grew from a little more than 200 in the mid-60’s to upwards of 20,000 by the early 70’s with telephone tax resisters existing in even greater numbers. The movement became so popular that in the late 60’s, The War Resisters League, founded in 1923, had to found the National WTR, War Tax Resisters as a sister resistance group.

Further support for war tax resisters came in 1982, in the form of a new coalition of groups with common goals known as the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. The NWTRCC, pronounced “new trick” provides material and moral support for tax resisters and advice for those considering becoming tax resisters.

According to NWTRCC, there are two possible arguments you can present to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for your refusal to pay taxes on grounds of your conscience objection to war. According to Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” This would not only excise Mennonites and Quakers and any other genuine individuals who have a moral opposition to supporting war in any way, but would actually indemnify them for not acting in accordance to their beliefs. Another possible tax loophole is the fact that the 16th Amendment, the tax amendment, was supposedly not legally ratified and that filing the forms violates the 5th amendment right against bearing witness against yourself, not to mention the fact that the IRS is reputed to violate 4th Amendment injunctions against search and seizure as well as violating rights to due process. As sketchy as this sounds, occasionally the IRS finds it more profitable not to pursue legal recourse against such gadflies. One such objector is Bob Schulz. Mr. Schulz began a hunger strike on July 1, 2001, until the government had given him a response and redress of grievances in regards to the questionable legality of the income tax. Bob Schulz and the “We the People Project” also took out an ad in 2000 in USA Today addressing their points regarding the dubious character of the IRS. Joseph Banister, former special agent of the Criminal Investigation division of the IRS, and Mr. Schulz hand-delivered copies of the remonstrance to members of the three branches of government.

Possible penalties for this form of protest include levies, fines, audits, seizure of property, and possible prison time. During the 80’s there was a resurgence of property seizures in response to the growing numbers of war tax resisters. Since 1999, there have been no cases of property seizure, but this doesn’t mean that the IRS is just looking the other way. In December of 2004, Joe and Inge Donato and Kevin McKee were convicted of “willful evasion” of federal taxes and “conspiring to defraud the United States.” The three were business partners and members of a small Bible study community in New Jersey numbering less than 50 members known as the Restored Israel of Yaweh Bible Community. Mr. Donato and Mr. McKee were sentenced to terms of 27 and 24 months respectively and Inge was sentenced to six months in prison. The Restored Israel of Yaweh Community has a history of war tax resistance. The group was founded by Leo J. Volpe, a WWII conscientious objector and draft resister who became a pacifist religious activist. Volpe spent a four-month stint in jail for refusing to file tax returns. Since Volpe’s sentence in 1983, members of the community had not been bothered by government officials until this more recent action.

Presiding U.S. Federal District Judge, Jerome B. Simandle, recommended that the government erase the amount owed to IRS and allow them to pay an equal fine that would not go to fund any war they refused on moral grounds to materially support. The Donatos and Mr. McKee agreed to this proposition, but the IRS rejected it. “We would always have gladly paid our full share of taxes if only the government could assure us that the amount we paid would not go to fund war making,” said Joe Donato. “The lack of any provision like that forced us to either violate our religion or risk being branded as criminals. At that point, we saw no choice but to honor our beliefs.”

Founder of the National War Tax Resistance Coordination Committee, Ed Hedemann has not paid federal income taxes since 1970. He owes somewhere around $70,000 in back taxes, all of which has been relegated to causes he believes in. “I run a risk of getting in trouble for not paying my taxes, but not as big a risk as the people of Iraq will suffer if I do pay.” Hedemann receives notices often and occasionally receives personal calls from agents to his apartment. At one point he was taken by the U.S. Justice Department to Federal District Court to ask why he should not be held in contempt for not giving information to the IRS.

Hedemann refused the Vietnam draft and believed from then on that it was “inconsistent” to then pay for others to die in his place. Like most war resisters, he resists war personally and refuses either to kill or pay to have people killed in his name. “Not only do I think the military actions the U.S. is taking in Iraq and Afghanistan are criminal, but I think the U.S. has done more to increase the level of terrorism in the world than any other country, thus making the world far less safe for Americans, Afghanis, Iraqis and others.” Hedemann refuses the 3 percent federal telephone excise tax. The telephone excise tax was instated in 1898 to help fund the Spanish-American War and is a popular means of war tax protest, as the IRS usually finds it more expensive to attempt legal action so few cases are pursued. Hedemann also refuses to pay any federal income tax. According to Hedemann, it’s impossible to get a definitive count of the number of war tax resisters because many war tax resisters don’t always contact NWTRCC or other groups. But some estimate that 5,000-10,000 people are refusing to pay some or all of their federal taxes to protest the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This may be in part due to the phenomenon observed by author of “The Picket Line” blog and the DON (Don’t Owe Nothin’) method of tax resistance, David Gross. “I’ve done some work in concert with NWTRCC and with our local group (Northern California War Tax Resistance) [but overall] the tax resistance movement isn’t very tightly coordinated. It tends to attract people who have an individualistic bent (coming from antiauthoritarian dissenter churches like the Quakers, or American anarchism of the Thoreauvian mold)…and there’s a lot of ideological and tactical differences that discourage coordinated actions. Many conscientious tax resisters are content to go at it alone without ever reaching out to the community at large or organized tax resistance groups.”

In addition to groups such as The War Resisters League and NWTRCC, there are other groups, like the CMTC Escrow account, that can provide support. War tax resisters can deposit money into the escrow account where it can be later withdrawn to pay off debts. There is also the War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund, which has reimbursed over $185,000 to over 280 war tax resisters to help resisters pay for interest and fines imposed by the IRS. Presently under consideration, H.R. 2631, called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund, would possibly give an alternative for conscientious objectors to have their taxes funneled into nonmilitary funds. The problems with the Peace Tax Fund, however, are brought up by David Gross, who says that “It’s no good in that it will not have any beneficial effects — I that is, if the bill were to become law, Congress would continue to spend tax money in the same terrible ways it would otherwise, and all taxpayers, including the ones who check the ‘peace tax’ box on their forms, would in reality be contributing to all of it just as before. In other words, the ethical cover the law gives ‘peace tax’ payers is completely phoney.”

There already are methods of legally showing solidarity to the war resistance movement financially. One method of showing financial solidarity in the war resistance movement is to boycott organizations that serve as Defense Contractors. According to the nonprofit group Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch there are a large number of groups, some of which include familiar names like Boeing, The Carlyle Group, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Texas Instruments, Verizon and many others, which contribute to war.

Another, perhaps more radical, and certainly more Thoreauvian, method of war tax resistance involves actually living below the taxable income level. Jessica Ramer, the author of the blog “War Tax Resistance,” chooses this method of war tax resistance. Ms. Ramer works at a non-profit group called the Kushi Institute for a modest salary plus room and board to avoid earning enough income to be taxed. Another blogger, David Gross, also came to the conclusion that it was worth quitting his job and sacrificing luxury to support his conscience.

Gross’ blog “The Picket Line” outlines the DON or “Don’t Owe Nothin'” method of war tax resistance. The method is one legal option for conscientious objectors to stop funding the military. The DON method is a non-confrontational, “by the book” method of ensuring that your money doesn’t go to fund a war you don’t believe in. The method is not for everyone and involves a lot of paperwork and complicity with the bureaucracy that some protestors may abhor more than simply handing over their dollars for guns. Information on this kind of resistance is available at a link at The Picket Line with NWTRCC’s PDF document “Low Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance.”

For those who feel that passive means of protest such as picket lines and letters to members of Congress is not enough, war tax resistance may be a more direct route. Whether your resistance comes in the form of refusing telephone tax, refusing a symbolic portion, or all of your federal income tax, or modifying your lifestyle to live below taxable income, it is possible to ensure congruency between your beliefs and your wallet. For those seriously considering any method of war tax resistance, a good starting point is NWTRCC’s website

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