People will be less reluctant to take risks in a tax resistance campaign if they know other people are willing to share those risks. One way of providing this sort of reassurance is for resisters to join together in a mutual insurance plan, so that if the government takes legal action against a resister, or retaliates against them in some other way, they won’t have to bear these consequences alone.
Today I’ll review some examples of how a variety of tax resistance campaigns have created mutual insurance plans to protect resisters.
War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund
The War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund reimburses American war tax resisters who have penalties & interest seized by the IRS. The fund is operated by a team of resisters and sympathizers, and has hundreds of subscribers:
In a core group of 83 people across the country decided we could easily share $463.14 in penalties and interest incurred by a few military tax resisters who appealed to the war tax resistance community for help. The more people we could recruit to shoulder the penalties and interest of resisters, the lighter the burden for everyone. With the modest help we could provide, conscientious resisters were able to keep on keeping on.
The penalty fund had the added benefit of making us all tax resisters, not just those who withheld all or a portion of their income taxes. The base list of supporters has been as high as 800 people sharing the weight. In nearly every appeal, at least 200 people respond, usually more. In all we’ve paid out about $250,000 to help resisters stay in the struggle.
Resisters who have had money seized by the IRS send the fund documentation showing how much of the seizure was the result of interest and penalties, and then the fund sends out an appeal to its members to help reimburse the cost:
We divide the total amount for all resisters by the number of active names on the membership list to arrive at a “share.” We then send out an appeal to both actives and inactive members. Each contributor pays all of a share or whatever amount she can afford. Some pay more than a share. If we collect 75 percent of the total we ask for, each resister gets 75 percent of the amount they requested. We cannot promise that we will collect the total amount requested; usually, however, we can reimburse between 50% and 80% of each appeal.
I have personal experience with this mutual insurance plan. In the IRS seized some bank accounts of mine to recover taxes I had refused to pay. This included $813 in interest and penalties. I applied to the War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund, which sent me a check for $649 from the amount the subscribers to the fund pledged.
Irish Land League
When the National Land League launched a rent strike targeting English absentee landlords in Ireland in , it made sure resisters knew it would have their backs if the landlords tried to evict them. The leaders of the League issued a rent strike manifesto from Kilmainham Jail that declared:
If you only act together in the spirit to which within the last two years you have countless times pledged your vows, they can no more evict a whole nation than they can imprison them.
The funds of the National Land League will be poured out unstintingly for the support of all who may endure eviction in the course of the struggle. Our exiled brothers in America may be relied upon to contribute if necessary as many millions of money as they have contributed thousands to starve out landlordism and bring English tyranny to its knees.
One of the ways this played out was for evicted tenants to be temporarily put up, along with their livestock if any, on the property of unevicted tenants and sympathetic landowners, in what came to be called “Land League Villages.” Each family was given a small monthly allowance from the Land League.
Dublin Water Charge Strike
In , the resistance campaign against the water charge in Dublin initiated a mutual insurance fund. One of the campaign leaders recalls:
Obviously the council/government tactic was to try to individualise their intimidation. By summonsing individuals to court maybe they could bypass the mass participation that the protests against disconnections had seen. The campaign immediately took a decision that when any individual was summonsed to court, we would turn up and contest every case — and that we would turn up in force. It was at this time that we made a decision which would prove crucial to the success of the campaign. We decided to initiate a membership of the campaign at £2 per household. This money would go into a warchest to pay legal fees so that no individual would be left facing a legal bill. The idea that the individuals being taken to court were representing all of us was paramount. Within weeks 2,500 households had paid the £2 membership fee, and within 12 months there were over 10,000 paid-up households making the campaign without doubt the biggest to have existed in decades.
When Charles Ⅹ of France attempted to bypass the legislature and enact his own taxes in , French liberals in the Breton Association organized tax resistance and created a fund to defray the costs of any tax resisters who were prosecuted. By the terms of the Association’s manifesto:
We declare… [t]o subscribe individually for ten francs… This subscription will form a common stock or fund for all Brittany, destined to indemnify the subscribers for any expense they may be put to by their refusal to pay any illegal contributions imposed upon the public…
And this is how the fund was to be administered:
[Elected procurators are to] receive the subscriptions, to afford indemnities conformably to the [section quoted above], at the request of any subscriber prosecuted for the payment of illegal contributions; to sue in his name… for justice against the exactors by all possible means allowed by law…
War of the Regulation
The Regulator movement, a tax resistance rebellion in pre-American Revolution North Carolina, had an oath that members took that committed each of them to come to the aid of any others who might be arrested or whose property was being seized for nonpayment:
I will, with the aid of other sufficient help, go and take, if in my power, from said officer, and return to the party from whom taken; and in case any one concerned should be imprisoned, or under arrest, or otherwise confined, or if his estate, or any part thereof, by reason or means of joining this company of Regulators, for refusing to comply with the extortionate demands of unlawful tax gatherers, that I will immediately exert my best endeavors to raise as many of said subscribers as will be force sufficient, and, if in my power, I will set the said person at liberty…
The oath also created a mutual insurance pledge:
I do further promise and swear that if, in case this, our scheme, should be broken or otherwise fail, and should any of our company be put to expense or under any confinement, that I will bear an equal share in paying and making up said loss to the sufferer.
Reformed Israel of Yahweh
Members of the small Christian group called the Reformed Israel of Yahweh were, like its founder, conscientious objectors to military taxation. When some of the members of the group were convicted on tax evasion charges, the Reformed Israel of Yahweh organization paid their fines.
Pacific Yearly Meeting
A committee of the collection of American Quaker congregations known as the Pacific Yearly Meeting administers something it calls “the Fund for Concerns:”
Its purpose is to assist members and attenders of Monthly Meetings to follow individual leadings arising from peace, social order, or spiritual concerns. … Up to $100 per fiscal year per person will be available to help with the interest and penalty expenses of war tax resisters who are members or regular attenders of a Monthly Meeting. The Monthly Meeting must indicate approval and provide matching funds.
New York Yearly Meeting
During the Vietnam War, the New York Yearly Meeting advocated war tax resistance and “promised financial help through special committees if [Quaker resisters] changed jobs or refused to pay taxes in protest against the war.”
In 1919, Papua, which had been a territory occupied and run by the German Empire until World War Ⅰ when Australia took over, began to agitate against taxation without representation, and many people refused to pay.
The Papuan Courier, which was sympathetic to the tax resisters,
…as evidence of its bona fides on the question, has decided, to form a fund for the defence of any resident who may by victimised, persecuted, or prosecuted for failure to pay the tax, and to that end we open the list with a contribution of Five Guineas.
In , Irish Catholics rebelled against paying government-mandated tithes to the Anglican church. In this case, the Catholic church itself provided some insurance to the resisters. The Anglican archbishop Richard Whately complained:
Every possible legal evasion has been resorted to to prevent the incumbent from obtaining his due. A parish purse has been raised to meet law expenses for this purpose, and the result has been that in most instances nothing whatever, in others a very small proportion of the arrears, has been recovered. … [One Anglican clergyman] instituted a tithe-suit which was decided in his favour; but, instead of receiving the amount, he was met by an appeal to the High Court of Delegates, and is informed that a continued resistance to the utmost extremity of the law is to be supported by a parish purse.
In , a number of individuals and businesses opposed to paying mafia protection money began to use a number of techniques to interrupt the payments and to support those resisters whom the mafia was threatening with reprisals. The mayor of Palermo, Diego Cammarata, pledged €50,000 to assist merchants who had been victims of extortion.
The group “Peacemakers,” which launched the modern American war tax resistance movement , had a mutual insurance component from the beginning:
Peacemakers at the Ohio cell… established the Peacemaker Sharing Fund, a mutual aid plan designed to insure aid to dependents of imprisoned Peacemakers and to help finance group projects. During the Vietnam war, the sharing fund became the main vehicle for donations to meet the needs of war resisters’ families.
Penalty Sharing Community
The Iowa Peace Network maintains a mailing list of persons who have made a commitment to the Penalty Sharing Community to share in the penalties assessed to individuals and families who have chosen to resist war taxes or have participated in civil disobedience or non-violent direct action. When a request for assistance is received, a mailing is sent out which explains the resister’s situation and the amount of money needed. For example, if the resister was assessed a $300.00 penalty, each of the persons in the Community would pay an equal portion of the $300.00. Thus if there were 200 people in the Community, each would pay $1.50. The Iowa Peace Network will also add into the amount requested its costs for printing and mailing. Such costs have proven to be minimal.
Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters
Members of the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters redirected their federal taxes into an “alternative fund” that served partially as an escrow account, and partially as a way of redirecting some of the money to charitable organizations. Part of the fund was reserved to help defray any legal costs incurred by members in the course of their resistance.
“New Rush” Resisters
White miners at the “New Rush” in Kimberly, South Africa, voted in to form “a Defence League and Protection Association… not to assail the Government, but to protect individuals if assailed unrighteously by the Government.” The pledge of the association said in part:
I shall to the utmost of my power, with purse and person, protect any and every officer and member of the League against coercion or consequences of what nature soever arising out of the action necessitated by this pledge.
The pledge had a clause that made it binding when it would be signed by 400 men, whereupon:
The Government will be defied if they dare to touch a single claim for non-payment of license. The diamond buyers will refuse to pay further license and will be defended from harm.
When the Ruhr region of Germany began resisting reparation payments to the victorious nations of World War Ⅰ, France and Belgium occupied the region to take the payments by force. Germans responded with a campaign of mass nonviolent resistance, including tax resistance, and were backed up by their own government.
One of the ways the German government supported the campaign was by paying the strikers itself, to the tune of 715 million marks. It did this in part by printing off more currency, which helped fuel the hyperinflation of (itself a sort of resistance strategy that made it difficult or impractical to account for reparations payments).
During the “Reconstruction” period after the American Civil War, white supremacists in Louisiana refused their allegiance to a federally-backed, mixed-race state government, and demonstrated this through tax resistance.
Several attorneys issued a statement offering to “engage themselves, without compensation, and as a matter of public service, to defend professionally all [tax resisters].” A mass-meeting issued a tax resistance pledge, and resolved:
That a committee of five be appointed to draw up a plan by which the citizens may co-operate, to employ counsel and mutually assist each other in their refusal to pay taxes.
Satyagraha in South Africa
Gopal Krishna Gokhale, an officer in the Indian National Congress fighting for the independence of India, pledged £2,000 a month to support Indian satyagahis in South Africa who were engaged in tax resistance and other tactics under Gandhi’s direction.