I.R.S. Seizes Home of Art Harvey & Elizabeth Gravalos

On , National Public Radio’s Morning Edition did a story about the IRS seizure of the home of war tax resisters Art Harvey & Elizabeth Gravalos. Here are some excerpts from the transcript:

Charlotte Renner reports on an anti-military protester whose house and land have been seized by the IRS and offered at auction because of his refusal to pay taxes which support the U.S. military.

Bob Edwards (host)
Every year, an estimated 8,000 anti-military protesters refuse to pay their federal taxes. They say they don’t want the government to use their money for defense or military spending. The Internal Revenue Service rarely seizes the property of these politically motivated non-taxpayers, so when the IRS decided to auction off the property of a tax protester in rural Maine, it created quite a stir. From Maine Public Radio, Charlotte Renner reports.
Charlotte Renner (Maine Public Radio)
For almost ten years now, Arthur Harvey has lived with his wife, Elizabeth Gravlos and their two children, along a country road in a sagging wooden house without electricity or indoor plumbing. They pay their state and local taxes, but they refuse to hand over any money to the IRS, which estimates their tax debt at $62,000. Harvey says that figure is probably too high, but he doesn’t keep careful records of the profit he makes selling organic blueberries, and he says he’d rather lose everything than contribute a single penny to the Pentagon.
Arthur Harvey (anti-military tax protester)
To me, the important issue was nuclear weapons, and I felt, as soon I realized what was going on in the ’50s, that the human race very likely would come to a bad end unless we did away with nuclear weapons. So that has been the focus of my feelings about it.
Charlotte Renner
For Harvey’s wife, Elizabeth, the deciding moment came during the Vietnam War. A staunch Catholic, she can still remember the conversation with a college roommate that made her throw her IRS forms in the trash.
Elizabeth Gravlos (anti-military tax protester)
She said, “Well, how can you be against abortion and pay for the war?” — that was the war in Vietnam. So I said I can’t, after a while.
Charlotte Renner
Gravlos and Harvey have known for decades that the IRS might decide to take the house, their two wood lots, and the blueberry barren they depend on for survival. What they didn’t realize was that the seizure of their property by revenue agents would spark a protest in Hartford, Maine, a village where mill workers and farmers struggle to make ends meet.

[excerpt from protest song, “I’m not gonna pay for that killing machine down by the riverside, down by the riverside.”]

Charlotte Renner
On the morning of the auction as the sun dries the dew, about 30 of Harvey’s supporters form a circle in the vacant lot beside the town office which happens to be right across the street from Harvey’s house. About a dozen of the protesters have been invited here by the War Tax Resistance Resource Center, a national organization based in Maine. While the bidders file in and out of the one-room town office, refusing to speak to the small army of reporters clustered at the screen door, Harvey sympathizers take turns speaking into the microphone. Bob Bady says he hasn’t paid federal taxes for 26 years. Bady blasts the federal government for what he calls “bloated” military spending, but avoids blaming IRS staffers for doing their job.
Bob Bady (anti-military tax protester)
I guess what I had to remember is that they’re just little cogs in a big machine, and we’re little pieces of sand in the big machine — we’re irritants. And I take great pride in being an irritant, and on a day like today I need to remember to be proud of being an irritant and not scared of being a little piece of sand.
Charlotte Renner
Bradford Lyttle considers the Harvey clan a shining example of family values.
Bradford Lyttle (anti-military tax protester)
I have followed his life and I find it an expression of high moral principle.
Charlotte Renner
Lyttle has come all the way from Chicago to say his piece, but closer to home, some neighbors are outraged by Harvey’s refusal to pay his taxes. Armand Rowe watches the protest from his sister’s lawn across the street. Rowe spent five years in the Armed Forces and he calls the resistance, “un-American.” He believes that military spending is justified in a dangerous world, and if he had the $21,000 the IRS wants for Harvey’s house, Rowe says he’d gladly write the check.
Armand Rowe (military Supporter)
You know just to say, “Hey, I’ve put a big old POWs flag up there, a United States flag, and a Maine state flag up there,” just out of spite and send that to Harvey wherever he goes a pitch every time I turn around.
Charlotte Renner
Although Rowe doesn’t try to buy Harvey’s property, a few others do. But they don’t stay around to watch IRS agent Diane Santoro open the envelopes. Just before noon, as the protesters begin chanting and beating a drum, Arthur Harvey, Elizabeth Gravlos, and their daughter Emily, file into the town office, followed by more journalists than the spartan building can hold. A Hartford resident snags one of the wood lots for $10,000. The Harvey’s 30-acre blueberry barren goes for about $13,000 to a hunter who reportedly plans to build a lodge on the land. Harvey says he’ll still grow blueberries in other barrens he’s been renting. And a one-acre wood lot will stay in the family.
Diane Santoro, (IRS agent)
For map 07, lot 56 at $727, the successful bidder is Emily Harvey.
Charlotte Renner
Twenty-year-old Emily Harvey takes some consolation in beating out the town selectman for the slice of land she can see from her bedroom.
Emily Harvey (protester’s daughter)
It would have been very difficult for me to know that the selectman owns that lot because it was across the street. The reason that I put my bid in was because my brother asked me to. So it was a joint thing, because he’s only 16 and not able to own property.
Charlotte Renner
But there’s no way to know how much longer Emily and her family will be able to live near their wood lot. The house didn’t attract a single buyer, so the IRS plans to lower the minimum bid and hold another auction in a few weeks. A similar strategy worked a few years ago in Massachusetts when agents sold two other properties seized from anti-war activists, but IRS spokesman Helen Hertzer says she wishes another auction weren’t necessary.
Helen Hertzer (IRS spokesman)
To not be able to sell the properties and reduce the taxpayer’s debt, of course, we’re not meeting our objective or the taxpayer’s objective there.
Charlotte Renner
Hertzer hasn’t given up hope that a lower price will hook bidders next time around, but Arthur Harvey figures they’d be crazy to buy a house built on a foundation that’s caving in. And, while he won’t accept the property as a gift from anyone willing to pay federal taxes, he still hopes that more protests by all his friends and fellow resisters will keep potential buyers at bay. After all, he needs his kitchen — not just to cook the family’s meals, but also to brew up the herb tea he uses to kill weeds choking his blueberries.