Betsy Corner and Randy Kehler Battle the I.R.S. Over Seizure of Home

A dispatch from the IRS siege of the Corner/Kehler house from the New York Times:

Colrain Journal; Peace Advocates Turn Tax Resistance Into a Ritual

Every Thursday morning , a small group of out-of-towners has trudged down a dirt road in this quiet Berkshire community carrying colorful hand-sewn banners to the doorstep of a small white farmhouse.

Stopping in the front yard, they are greeted by others, who form a circle and join hands to sing songs of defiance and world peace in a ceremony evocative of the 60’s. They have come to protest the size of the nation’s military budget in a house that has become a symbol of tax resistance.

The participants have two things in common: they do not believe in paying Federal taxes to finance the United States military, and, pointing to the end of the cold war and evidence of social unrest in the nation, they believe the time is ripe for a revival of their cause.

“Everybody’s become more restless and disgusted with the major parties in government,” said David Dellinger, who was a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial and who came to Colrain with a group from Vermont. The Chicago Seven were anti-war protesters charged with various offenses related to disruptions at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

“Everywhere people go now, there’s crime in the cities, homelessness, drugs, poverty, unemployment,” said Mr. Dellinger, now 76 years old. “I think people are going to decide we didn’t win the cold war. The Soviet people lost and we lost.”

Mr. Dellinger and others have come from as far away as California to the Colrain house, which was seized by the Internal Revenue Service in because its owners had not paid $27,000 in Federal taxes and interest. The tax-resister owners, Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner, did pay their local and state taxes.

Mr. Kehler and Ms. Corner continued to live in the house until they were arrested by Federal marshals . Since then, friends and supporters of the couple have arrived to occupy the almost empty house in week-long shifts marked by the Thursday “changing of the guard” ceremony.

Because the house was sold in a Government auction , all who go inside risk arrest for trespassing. Seven protesters were arrested on the day the house was auctioned but were released after the auction.

For Bonney Simons of St. Johnsbury, Vt., sleeping on a bedroll in the house is her first official act of civil disobedience. At 72 years of age, she said, it is time to “put your body where your mouth is.”

Others, like Purusha Obluda, come to resurrect values of their past. Mr. Obluda met Mr. Kehler in California after being jailed for blocking the Oakland induction center.

During his week’s stay at Colrain house, Mr. Obluda, 64, typed a letter to the Government saying he would not pay his income tax . “I don’t expect to file for the rest of my life,” he told others before he left to go home to Palo Alto, Calif.

The I.R.S. says it stopped counting tax refusers in the mid-80’s because the numbers were so small.

The sale of the house to Danny Franklin, a 22-year-old part-time police officer from the nearby town of Greenfield, has added a twist to the protest, which seeks among other things more attention for housing needs.

The house sits on land owned by the Valley Community Land Trust, a private trust formed to preserve open space and affordable housing in the area, said John J. Stobierski, Mr. Franklin’s lawyer. Mr. Franklin is waiting for the trust to confirm that he can assume the 99-year lease before moving into the house with his fiancee and 5-month-old child.

From his office in the Traprock Peace Center in nearby Deerfield, Mr. Kehler said that he felt sorry for the young couple who bid on his house but believed that they had made a “mistake.”

“In our view, they have wittingly or unwittingly assisted the Government in collecting taxes from us,” he said.

Mr. Kehler, 47, a self-employed public policy researcher, spent 10 weeks in jail after his arrest and was released on the day the house was sold. He and his wife, Ms. Corner, and their 12-year-old daughter are staying at a friend’s home near their former house.

Ms. Corner, a self-employed landscape architect, still returns to tidy up the house she lived in for 13 years. She bristles at those who have written letters in the local paper saying she is setting a bad example for her daughter, Lillian.

“We aren’t paying for bombs and she understands that,” Ms. Corner said. “People can’t get away from the fact that we’re breaking the law. But this country was founded by breaking the law.”

The house siege was the subject of the movies An Act of Conscience and Path of Greatest Resistance, and you can also read more about how it played out in the following Picket Line entries: