Disrupt Trials of Tax Resisters

There are many ways to support tax resisters when they are targeted by the police or courts, including:

  1. supporting the families of imprisoned resisters (see The Picket Line for )
  2. accompanying resisters to and from prison and visiting them while inside (see The Picket Line for )
  3. rallies outside the courthouse or prison (see The Picket Line for )
  4. attending their trials (see The Picket Line for )

Another way to help is to disrupt the trials or to break resisters out of prison. Today I’ll give some examples of these tactics.

  • Alexander Hamilton complained of the American Whiskey Rebels: “The audacity of the perpetrators of those excesses was so great, that an armed banditti ventured to seize and carry off two persons who were witnesses against the rioters… in order to prevent their giving testimony of the riot to a court then sitting, or about to sit.”
  • The American tax rebels in the Fries rebellion did what they could to break their comrades out of prison:

    As soon as it became known the arrests were made, the leaders of the opposition to the law determined to rescue them, if possible. For the purpose of consulting on the subject, a meeting was called at the public house… Notices were carried around the evening before land left at the houses of those known to be friendly to the movement. By ten o’clock a number of people had assembled, and considerable excitement was manifested. The general sentiment was in favor of immediate organization and marching to Bethlehem to take the prisoners from the hands of the Marshal. The crowd was formed in a company, and John Fries elected captain. They were variously armed; some with guns, others with swords and pistols, while those with less belligerent feelings, carried clubs.

    The people of Northampton, meanwhile, had also taken action in reference to a rescue of the prisoners. A meeting to consult on the subject was called… Notice was also given for two or three companies of light horse to meet there at the same time…

    Fries led a group of about 140 armed rebels to the building where the prisoners were held, and then after a tense standoff with the Marshal and about twenty of his posse, managed to win the surrender of the prisoners. Victory was sweet, but brief, as this provoked President John Adams to send in the militia. Fries and some of his companions were captured, convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged (Adams pardoned them).
  • Those forefathers to the Rebecca Rioters known as “Jack a Lents” rescued two of their number who had been arrested for their roles in toll booth destruction. A news account said:

    [T]he whole gang appeared soon after, who demanded the said prisoners, threatening, in case of refusal, to pull his house down, and burn his barns and stables, and immediately discharged several loaded pieces into the house, which happily did no damage. The justice finding himself and family beset in such a manner, discharged several blunderbusses and fowling-pieces at them, whereby one was shot dead on the spot, and several so wounded, that ’tis not believed they will recover. At this the rioters fled with precipitation, leaving their two companions behind them.

    But the Jack a Lents weren’t giving up. A later dispatch reads:

    [A]bove twenty of those turnpike cutters or levellers, as they call themselves, though that is a character by much too good for them, met with the said keeper [of the county jail] at the King’s Head Inn at Ross fair, and demanding his reasons for detaining those two men in custody, without giving him time to return an answer, dragged him out of the inn into the street, knocked him down several times, and almost murdered him, notwithstanding all that the innkeeper and his servants could do to prevent it, who were used in a very cruel manner for assisting him. The villains immediately carried the keeper to Wilton’s Bridge, where at first they concluded to throw him into the river Wye; but at length they agreed to carry him to a place where they would secure him till they themselves had fetched the prisoners out of custody. The better to complete that design, they dragged him four miles in his boots and spurs, to a place called Horewithey, a public-house, where he was kept prisoner, beat in a shameful manner by those merciless wretches, and obliged to write a discharge to the turnkey, being threatened, in case of refusal, to be hanged upon the spot.

  • When pensioner Sylvia Hardy was taken to court for her refusal to pay her council tax in , her supporters in the Devon Pensioners’ Action Forum tried to blockade the court and prevent the officials from entering.
  • More recently, hundreds of British “constitutionalist” tax protesters “stormed a courtroom and attempted to make a citizens’ arrest on a judge in support of a man challenging his council tax bill.” One of them shouted “seal the court” and another sat in the judge’s seat and officiously ordered the accused to be released. A number of protesters staged a sit-down blockade of the police vehicles that were summoned to the courthouse. The court hearing was postponed.
  • During the tax revolts in Turkey in , the government tried to quietly round up the leaders of the rebellion in the dead of night. That didn’t work out too well, as the rebels turned the tables:

    Haci Akif Agha, one of the important local notables and a leader of the revolt, however, offered a successful resistance to the gendarmes who came to arrest him. His resistance publicised the arrests, and the citizens immediately organised themselves for the release of the prisoners. The morning after the arrests, a large crowd of furious Muslims surrounded the Governor’s residence, demanding the return of the exiles. The Governor escaped to a private house, but was captured and kept prisoner in the İbrahim Pasha Mosque.

    The crowd also took revenge against the local police, and went to retrieve the exiled mufti and his companions, “the Governor having been compelled under the threat of death to give orders for their return.”
  • In 1737, in North Carolina, rumor spread that a man had been imprisoned for refusing to pay a property tax (he had in fact been imprisoned for contempt of court). 500 armed people marched on Edenton, where the prisoner was held, meaning to free him, but by the time they got there he had already been released.

    The “mob” thereupon dispersed, threatening, however, “the most cruel usage to such persons as durst come to demand any quitrents of them for the future.” This was the account of the affair the Governor himself gave, to which he added a declaration of his inability to punish them if they carried out their threats.