Tax Revolt: Refusing to Pay for the War

Let’s cast ourselves back, shall we, to , by which time the American anti-war movement had really hit its stride, and war tax resistance was prominently on the agenda.

From the Niagara Falls Gazette:

Day of Reckoning

Tax Revolt: Refusing to Pay for the War

(Newsweek Feature Service)

As approaches, most taxpayers are studiously calculating how much to turn over to the Internal Revenue Service. A small but growing group of citizens, however, is just as studiously determining how much they will refuse to pay the tax collector.

In the latest, and perhaps the ultimate, form of antiwar protest, hundreds and possibly thousands of taxpayers are preparing to hold back, or have already held back, anything from a symbolic few dollars to the 10 per cent war-born Federal surtax on their whole income tax for the year.

At the very least, these irate citizens hope their actions will register as formal protests against the Vietnam war. The more optimistic among them envision the war-effort’s being actually affected, should enough people hold back on their taxes.

It all began , with an organization of New Left and pacifist opponents of the war called War Tax Resistance. WTR’s headquarters is a littered office on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The group also claims 62 resistance centers around the country, a number that has more than doubled . And it plans nationwide demonstrations at IRS offices on .

The group’s “coordinator” is Bradford Lyttle, a seasoned pacifist who led a peace march through the U.S. and Europe to Moscow a decade ago. WTR dispenses the usual paraphernalia of protest buttons, newsletters, and posters.

One poster shows a sprawl of dead children under the pronouncement “Your Tax Dollars at Work.” But mostly the propaganda treads a careful line between evangelic encouragement to defy the tax-coliector and occasional cautions that doing so could land the tax resister in a heap of trouble, perhaps jail.

The tax resisters also point to respectable historical precedents. Quakers and Mennonites refused to pay taxes for the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. And Henry David Thoreau is spiritually summoned forth from his night in jail in for refusing to pay taxes in protest against the U.S. invasion of Mexico.

“If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills,” Thoreau said, “that would not be a bloody and violent measure, as it would to pay them and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”

But tax resistance leaders warn that Thoreau’s imitators cannot be sure of getting off as lightly as he did.

“As we develop a broad movement of tax resistance,” cautions a Chicago-based WTR group, “we must anticipate a certain number of criminal prosecutions, and many merciless attempts to collect from tax resisters. Here is a good rule of thumb for all would-be resisters: if you can’t stand heat, don’t put your hand in the fire.”

Such warnings generally are played down in tax-resistance circles. Instead, there is a tendency to emphasize that the IRS so far has shied away from criminal action in favor of attaching salaries or seizing bank accounts.

There are, of course, other frustrations. WTR guidance on how to go about not paying taxes inevitably confronts the fact that a good many people already have — through payroll withholding taxes, and that getting tax money back is obviously a more difficult matter than not paying up to begin with.

One tax resistor from Minneapolis claims to have at least temporarily beaten the withholding system. He listed 40 million Vietnamese as dependents on his 1040 form; and the IRS, he says, has already sent him a refund.

He hopes this was one more example of the fallibility of computers, but tax resisters expect the human arithmeticians at IRS to be after the refundee soon enough. All the same, stretching the definition of dependents is one of the main tactics tax resisters are proposing.

“We must explicitly reject the standards defined by a blind bureaucracy and affirm instead definitions that spring from our own consciousness of human solidarity,” goes a bit of neo-Orwellianism from the Chicago WTR center.

The resisters are also zeroing in on other Federal taxes, most notably the 10 per cent Federal excise on telephone charges. According to telephone officials, many tax resisters have already begun subtracting the 10 per cent before paying their bills.

The telephone tax resisters evidently feel somewhat encouraged by telephone company policy: to accept the truncated payments, to continue service, and to leave the collection of the 10 per cent tax up to the IRS.

Income tax resisters have been a smaller band in recent years than telephone tax non-payers. But their numbers have been growing of late at a far greater rate.

In , when the IRS first began to keep tabs on tax protesters, some 375 were counted. In , there were 533, and , 848.

Resistance leaders feel that even if the amounts of nonpayment are small, symbolic sums, they could have significant impact by snarling the tax-collecting machinery. In a hand-lettered flier, titled, “No money, no war,” poet Allen Ginsberg asserts:

“If money talks, several hundred thousand citizens, refusing payments to our war government will short-circuit the nerve system of our electronic bureaucracy.”

The IRS has already formed a group of agents to go after conscientious non-payers, but an IRS spokesman stolidly denies that the electronics of the tax-collecting machinery can be jammed or ultimately evaded by the resisters. With the folk wisdom of civilization on his side, he says: “You can’t avoid your tax bill.”

To which WTR coordinator Lyttle, portentiously replies: “We’ll find out.”

Next, from the Daily Illini, :

War protesters plan action…

: Day to withhold taxes

by Steve Melshenker
Daily Illini Staff Writer

The government is a business proposition supported by a faith in its institutions which brings value to the dollar and the collection of dollars through taxes, which supports the government institutions.

Like any other business, the government is not pleased when its customers, the American people, do not pay their bills on time, and upset with some fail to pay at all.

However, there are those who believe the product for which they are paying is not up to company standards. That product is the Vietnam war. And so, these same people believe, if they don’t like the product, why should they pay for it?

Protest rekindled

On the war tax resistance moves en masse. All across the country protests are scheduled and various resistance groups are urging taxpayers to withhold part of all of their taxes in protest of the Vietnam war.

The war tax resistance groups do not oppose all taxes, just those going toward the war.

Various methods of resistance could be applied toward this purpose.

The method presently stressed by the resistance movement is refusing to pay at least $5 of some tax owed the government.

Or one might just refuse to pay part of his taxes, such as the additional income, the ten per cent surtax, or the telephone tax.

One might refuse to pay the percentage of his tax going toward the war. He could base his refusal on the percentage of the total national budget used for war, on the cost of the Vietnam war, or on other calculations.

Some people pay part of their tax and contribute the rest as a “peace tax” to the United Nations or some relief agency. Generally, these people contribute to organizations engaged in peaceful, constructive work.

But even though the government is not a profit making organization, it does not like to accumulate unpaid bills.

Don Werner, acting group supervisor of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) explained a six per cent interest and six per cent penalty charge accompany that part of the taxes due to the government and withheld by the taxpayer.

Werner said IRS offers “every opportunity to pay” the tax and the first step toward collection takes the form of letters to the delinquent tax payer. A bill is sent out and if it is not paid within ten days, the task of collection is turned over to a collecting officer.

Extreme measure

The most extreme measure the internal revenue office can take is to levy on all property belonging to the individual. However, certain property items are exempt from this levy, such as tools and books necessary for the person’s trade, business, or profession. A complete list can be found in the internal revenue code.

Beyond all this, IRS can recommend the U.S. Attorney’s office take legal action against the delinquent taxpayer.

Richard Makarski, chief of the tax division for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the maximum penalty for tax evasion is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Before any penalty is handed out, he said, the case is reviewed by the tax division of the justice department and if felony is involved a grand jury indictment is issued.

Makarski said that cases of this type were rare and “I don’t see the government taking much action against war protesters.”

He said only major cases of evasion were prosecuted.

So the war tax resistance movement is not likely to cause much damage to the war process, but in the words of one member of the Vietnam Moratorium committee, “it will show the government people are willing to do something assertive to protest the war.”

Sylvia Kushner, executive secretary of the Chicago Peace Council said the withholding of the phone tax will cause no damage to the individual and at worst the government will take the tax out of that person’s bank account.

The nationwide protest on has as its theme, Who pays for the war? Who profits from the war? And in no small way the peace guys are focusing ’s protest on the answers to those questions.

From the Harvard Crimson:

Five Members of Faculty Will Withhold War Taxes To Voice Vietnam Dissent

By Scott W. Jacobs

Five Harvard faculty members and nine M.I.T. professors — including two Nobel prize-winners — have announced their intention to withhold portions of their taxes to protest the Vietnam War.

In identical letters appearing in the Crimson and the M.I.T. Tech this week, the professors said they will refuse to pay portions of the 10 per cent surtax or the telephone tax “as a sign of our personal opposition to the continuing Vietnam War.”

Salvador E. Luria, M.I.T.’s Nobel laureate. and George Wald, Higgins Professor of Biology and a Nobel winner, each signed the letters to their colleagues. Other Harvard signers are Harvey Cox, professor of Divinity; Everett I. Mendelsohn, professor of the History of Science; Herbert C. Kelman, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethies; and Mark Ptashne, lecturer in Biochemistry.

The signers asked other faculty members who have also decided to withhold their taxes to join them in a press release on  — the same day that tax resistance rallies are scheduled around the country.

The Boston professors are among the first groups in the country to announce a systematic plan for withholding taxes. Several individuals — most notably Joan Baez — have withheld taxes to protest the war in the past.

In most cases the government has simply appropriated bank accounts or pay checks to get the revenue. although tax resisters are liable to jail sentences.

“Dragging One’s Feet”

“All of us confidently expect the government will collect the tax before this is through.” Wald said . “We are expressing our disapproval of what our country is doing and making it more expensive to collect these taxes and do it.

“You understand that one is essentially dragging one’s feet.” he added.

“We are clearly engaging in a conscious form of civil disobedience,” Mendelsohn said. “We are judging the war. We are saying it is wrong, and we are consciously cutting ourselves off from the war in the ways that we can.

Cox, who is now on sabbatical from the Divinity School, said the purpose of the action is to involve non-draft-age people in the anti-war movement.

“We’ve been asking young people to take a lot of risks — burning draft cards. resisting the draft, marching. I think it’s time to spread the risk through the whole life cycle.” he said .

The tax withholding is aimed primarity at the telephone tax and the 10 per cent surtax which were approved as means of financing the rising cost of the war.

Harvard is forced to deduct the surtax on salaries monthly, but taxes on royalties and honorariums must be assessed privately every year by the April 15 tax deadline.

From the Cornell Daily Sun:

Call Off the War

To the Editor: The undersigned members and wives of the staff at Cornell University declare their intention to refuse payment of the Federal excise tax on their telephone bills as a gesture of protest against our government’s policy in Vietnam. This tax was specifically retained by Congress as a revenue measure to provide funds for the war.

By our action, we signify our unwillingness to pay for that brutal, immoral war, one which has brought death and destruction to the Vietnamese, their land, and their culture. We refuse to sanction further waste of lives and treasure in defense of a corrupt and totalitarian regime in Saigon. The Vietnamese must be given true self-determination. American troops must be brought home. The War Must Be Stopped.

Andreas and Genia Albrecht, David and Carol Jasnow, Douglas and Marie Archibald, Jack Kiefer, Michael and Judy Balch, Jack and Mary Lewis, Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., David Marr, David and Eloise Blanpied, Jim and Jean Matlack, Stephen Chase, Chandler and Katrina Morse, John and Sandra Condry, Reeve Parker, Robert Connelly, George and Julie Rinehart, Fred Cooper, Walter and Jane Slatoff, Vincent and Jill De Luca, Michael and Eve Stocker, Douglas Dowd, David Stroud, Daniel and Linda Finlay, Moss and Marilyn Sweedler, Bill and Maggie Goldsmith, Winthrop and Andrea Wetherbee, Neil and Louise Hertz, Tom and Carol Hill.

From the Cornell Daily Sun:

Anti-Tax Rallies At IRS Offices Protest Vietnam

By The Associated Press

Opponents of American policy in Vietnam massed in Boston and New York , while similar protest demonstrations — some objecting to the use of tax dollars to support the war — were staged in cities and towns across the country.

Crowds in Boston Common were estimated at 60,000, in New York’s Bryant Park, 20,000, but generally turnouts were below that of previous moratoriums. Tea was dumped into the Mississippi and Cedar rivers as reenactments of the Revolutionary era’s tax defiance — the Boston Tea Party.

Demonstrators at Internal Revenue Service sites numbered 4,000 in Chicago and in New York City, and ranged down to about 700 in Washington, D.C., 200 in Boston, 150 in White Plains, N.Y., and 16 in Oklahoma City.

Violence flared during demonstrations at the Berkeley campus of the University of California; demonstrators at Pennsylvania State University seized and damaged the administration building, and a brief melee erupted between police and protesters in Detroit.

In Washington, David Dellinger of the Chicago 7 urged a youthful, largely white crowd of 2,000 near the capitol to withhold their taxes as a means of forcing change in the United States.

“I advocate overthrowing the government by force but not by violence,” he told a rally, “and tax refusal is but one of the cutting edges and forces that are available to us.”

Young demonstrators burned two American flags during an earlier rally, drawing murmurs of disapproval from the rest of the crowd.

“We are going to make sure that this is a not so silent spring.” said Sam Brown, national coordinator of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, one of several groups sponsoring the Boston rally. The crowd on the common was about 40,000 short of the 100,000 who gathered there .

In New York City, William Kunstler, a defense lawyer in the Chicago 7 conspiracy trial, told the Bryant Park gathering: “The time has come to resist illegitimate authority by any means necessary.”

And here’s some evidence of war tax resistance several years later, from the Harvard Crimson:

Group Provides Protest Advice

Tax Resisters Oppose Federal Military Funding

By Kelly D. Eckel

A tax resistance clinic sponsored by the New England War Tax Resistance (NEWTR) attracted a group of approximately 15 people who shared anger and frustration that their federal tax dollars support the nation’s military policy.

Tax resisters in the presentation compared the nation’s military policy in Central America to Hitlerism in Germany and said that their tax resistance was “a direct reaction to the government’s extension of the military — an establishment which is inefficient.”

“I won’t pay for war, death, or nuclear annihilation. I might die that way, but it won’t be by my own hand,” a spokesman for the group said.

All those who attended the clinic at the Community Church on Boylston St. in Boston voiced anti-militaristic sentiments, and several had previously been involved in other movements such as draft resistance, phone tax resistance and “Food Not Bombs” groups.

The message of the NEWTR was presented in a 30-minute slide presentation entitled “More Than A Paycheck.”

According to spokesmen, tax resistance in the United States has its roots in the Revolutionary War. During the Vietnam War as well tax resistance was popular. Prominent tax resisters in included Joan Baez, Alan Ginsberg, Gloria Steinem, and Pete Seeger, the presentation said.

Ed Agro, one of two part-time staff people at NEWTR, said that the IRS estimated approximately 20,000 income tax resisters in the country at the end of the Vietnam War.

“Since then, the numbers have grown. There are now approximately 30 or 40 thousand declared tax resisters and many more undeclared,” Agro said.

Court Defense

Tax resistance is illegal, but it has been defended in court, said Becky Pierce, coordinator of the monthly NEWTR tax resistance clinic series.

According to NEWTR representatives, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will first try to access tax resisters’ liquid sources such as paychecks and accounts, then cars and real estate.

“But cars and real estate are lengthy affairs, so they don’t like to do that,” Pierce said.

“You can’t go to jail for tax resistance. You can only go to jail if you are guilty of contempt of court by refusing to show financial records if summoned,” Pierce said. “If you don’t file, it makes it much harder for the IRS to get your money. It means more work for the IRS since they must file your return with approximated figures and assess your tax for you.”

NEWTR provides several alternatives for tax resisters. It maintains an escrow fund into which tax resisters can deposit their tax money for an indefinite amount of time. This fund is a security for tax resisters who later decide to pay their debt to the IRS, organizers said.

“The IRS can’t seize this money since it is deposited in NEWTR funds anonymously,” Pierce said. “At present, the fund is safe,” she added.

Another program, a Tax Resistance Penalty Fund, reimburses people if they are charged or penalized by the IRS, a spokesman for the group said.

The Direct Giving Fund is another alternative for tax resisters.

“This fund is for people who feel secure about resisting. They give directly to an organization. Their money is never returnable as in the escrow fund,” Pierce said.

Pierce announced that there will be a Tax Day Demonstration at the John F. Kennedy Building in Boston on .