Karl Hess: Republican Speechwriter, Anarchist Tax Resister

Here’s a treat: the documentary Karl Hess: Toward Liberty is now available on YouTube.

This movie, which won a Best Documentary Oscar in , lets Hess informally narrate his own evolution from being Barry Goldwater’s speechwriter in his presidential campaign, to his fleeing the corridors of power for life on a farm advocating small-scale “appropriate technology” — and there’s a brief stop along the way to visit his tax resistance:

Right after the campaign the Internal Revenue Service went into its quadrennial song-and-dance of auditing and otherwise harassing everybody who lost. One of the worst things about losing a presidential campaign is: they get ya!

I went through an experience with them that I found sort of unbelievable. And I got to thinking, and I got angry, and I read the Declaration of Independence while I was angry. And I sent them a copy and I said “this document calls to my attention the fact that when you guys exceed all of your authority, begin acting like a bunch of colonial troops, that I should abolish you.”

And so I said “I hereby abolish you — I won’t pay your taxes anymore.”

Well, they don’t think that’s very funny. And they certainly have no interest in the historic significance of the statement.

One thing about being dispossessed of income and possessions is that you begin to understand that there’s a difference between money and the economy, or an economy. Money may be part of an economy, but it’s not the whole thing. An economy involves exchanges of goods and services, and that means barter.

For more on Karl Hess’s tax resistance, see The Picket Line for:

Jason Laning at friendly/agitate tells us how he wrestles with paying taxes for war, and shows us his version of the “tax forms as origami armaments” art idea, recently upstaged by another artist on the cover of the New Yorker.

His arguments for tax resistance strike a familiar chord:

[A]s long as we pay taxes, we are all complicit in the innocent deaths resulting from the Iraq War. This is in spite of whether we voted against Bush, wrote daily letters to our congresspersons, or attended every anti-war protest .

I think many Americans either forget or willfully ignore this fact. They perform a kind of self-deception by reassuring themselves that their responsibility for U.S. military action ends at the Presidential voting booth — that once a leader is chosen through an electoral process, that all responsibility then lies with that elected official.

Wrong. The simple fact is this: while many democratic anti-war activists clamor (at present, in vain) for Congress to cut off funding for the war, each individual American citizen holds a powerful tool for direct action against war within their grasp. The President may be the Commander in Chief, and Congress may have control of the war treasury, but we, as the American taxpayers, are the ones who provide the actual funds. If Americans are sick of war, they can simply choose to stop paying for it.