American War Tax Resister Helen G. Alexander

From the Frederick, Maryland News of :

Viet War Protester Refuses To Pay Tax

Mrs. Helen G. Alexander, who has refused to pay income taxes as a protest to the war in Vietnam, recently sent the following release to the News-Post, describing her encounter with a local agent of the Internal Revenue Service.

“On , Charles D. Long, recently assigned local agent for Internal Revenue Service, visited the home of Helen G. Alexander to collect the income tax he said she owes for . , Mrs. Alexander has refused to pay income tax because she says that it is used to finance the war in Southeast Asia. She also since that time has refused to pay the 10 per cent Federal Excise Tax on her telephone bill, which was specifically imposed in to finance the war, according to Rep. Wilbur Mills, who was Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time. Mrs. Alexander, when employed, sends the amount of the tax to civil rights, anti-poverty, and peace organizations.

“Since Mr. Long could not collect the money, he asked for a financial statement. When told there was none, he produced a government form for that purpose, and the two proceeded to go over it together. Since Mrs. Alexander would only answer questions concerning herself, the statement turned out to be not much more than a series of no comments. Other questions involved information which she felt Mr. Long should seek out for himself, such as employment (for purposes of attaching salaries), bank accounts (from which IRS can collect), safety deposit boxes (which IRS can open), property rights, real and personal, life insurance policies, stocks and bonds, vehicles, etc.

“Mrs. Alexander feels that Mr. Long, as a Treasury agent, with investigatory powers, should seek out the above information, since that is part of his job. Mr. Long said that he wanted to collect the money with the least amount of trouble and expense to the government. Mrs. Alexander replied that she was sorry that the government had to go to a little expense to collect, but that the government was spending a great deal of money carrying on the war in Southeast Asia in her name. Also, she did not want to do Mr. Long’s job for him, because then he might be out of a job, which would be alright, since his job was collecting money for the war.

“According to Mr. Long, he has just recently been assigned to the local office. He asked Mrs. Alexander if she had ever been out of the country. Replying in the negative, she said that she did not have to go out of the country to know what is going on in Southeast Asia. Mr. Long said that he had been to Berlin, Czechoslovakia, fought in Korea, and recently returned from a year of duty in Vietnam.

“Mrs. Alexander asked if he minded if she taped their conversation. Mr. Long said he did not mind. She taped just the first half of their discussion.

“The financial statement is supposed to be signed when completed, but Mrs. Alexander did not feel that she should sign any papers without benefit of counsel. Mr. Long said he might have to come back with a summons to get the signature. Mrs. Alexander told him to feel free to do that and anything else legal which he felt he needed to do. When she asked what the paper was for, he said that it would go into her file and be used as a tool.

“Mrs. Alexander appears willing to go to jail for her war tax refusal, if need be, but insists that she can not in good conscience help finance the war against Southeast Asia, and the war crimes committed there daily. Mrs. Alexander has to date received four seizure notices, but this is the first time she has been visited by an IRS agent.

“I have been completely overt in this action. It is not tax evasion. It is simple and out-right war tax refusal. I am not trying to evade anything. It is the strongest protest that I can personally carry out against the war. I’ve tried everything else and continue to do so. I can not be an accomplice in that war or an accessory to the inhuman and barbarous war crimes committed in the name of all Americans.”

I decided to try to hunt up some more information about Helen Alexander. The edition of the News features an editorial prompted by her story and some embellished memories of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience:

Refusing To Pay Taxes

In , Henry David Thoreau was engaged in hoeing his bean patch adjacent to the $25 cabin he had built by hand on the property facing Lake Walden of his fellow Concord, Massachusetts, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, when he suddenly became aware of pain in one of his heels.

Removing a shoe, Thoreau discovered that a sharp nail had projected through the leather and was bruising his heel.

Unequipped at his rustic abode to cope with the emergency, Thoreau kicked off the other shoe also and placing the one with the offending nail in his pocket, dropped his hoe and started to trudge into nearby Concord to find a cobbler to repair the shoe.

En route the Concord sage had a confrontation with his friend and neighbor, the village constable, who, by coincidence, was walking out to the Thoreau cabin in the performance of his duties.

“Henry,” inquired the constable, “are you prepared to pay your $2 poll tax?”

Amicably but firmly, Concord’s now world-renowned founder of the doctrine of passive resistance to what he sincerely believed to be immoral, unjust, and unethical laws, replied in the negative.

“I have told you repeatedly, Bill,” he said, “that I will never pay a $2 tax which President James K. Polk may use to buy a musket to arm a soldier to wage an iniquitous war against Mexico merely to obtain additional territory for the slavocracy of the South to expand its damnable system.”

Reaching into his pocket with obvious reluctance the constable brought out a paper and said:

“This is a warrant for your arrest from the tax collector. I am only doing my duty. Unless you are prepared to give me the $2, the only thing I can do is put you in the lockup.”

Thoreau was unimpressed.

“You do your duty, Bill,” he replied, “and I will do mine.”

So the highly respected magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, renowned naturalist, sympathizer with the nearby experiment in communal living which has come down into history as Brook Farm, and former boarder in the home of his collaborator and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, nationally known essayist and philosopher, calmly walked in his stocking feet beside the rustic village constable to Concord’s primitive one-cell town lockup.

In his celebrated essay on “Passive Resistance” [sic] which forms a chapter in his “Walden,” describing his year’s self-imposed exile in the handicrafted cabin built by hand on the shore of the pond of that name, Thoreau admits that his night in the town lockup interrupted twice when the constable brought two town drunks to share his solitude was the greatest test of his philosophy of his entire life.

But to the end of his days, Thoreau resented the fact that at dawn his many-petticoated aunt, bristling with indignation that Emerson had not come to her nephew’s relief earlier, appeared with a $2 bill, paid the tax, and the apologetic constable turned the key in the lock and released the man who by his action has done more, perhaps, to overturn organized society than any American.

It was after Mahatma Gandi read Thoreau’s essay on “Passive Resistance” that he inaugurated his similar crusade which eventually cost the British Empire the most sparkling jewel in its crown when it was forced to give freedom to India without the firing of a single shot by revolutionists.

And although President Polk — the only “strong chief executive” of the nation between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln — by initiating a war of naked and unmasked aggression against Mexico eventually, in one of the most sordid chapters in American history, added California and New Mexico to the United States, he failed completely and miserably to achieve his goal of making possible the extension of slavery within their borders.

Now on the 125th anniversary of Henry Thoreau’s self-imposed night behind bars in defense of a moral scruple comes a reincarnation of the Concord Martyr in the person of Frederick County’s Mrs. Helen G. Alexander, militant anti-war leader and likewise a follower of “unpopular causes.”

According to a lengthy publicity release issued by Mrs. Alexander who is never a “blushing violet” insofar as availability to the press is concerned, she — like Thoreau — is “willing to go to jail” for her refusal to pay a “war tax.”

The Frederick woman recounts at length her recent confrontation at her home with an agent of the Internal Revenue Service who called upon her to inquire why she had failed to file a income tax return.

And, she adds, he was expeditiously informed in a few thousand courteous but emphatic words.

All of which — according to Mrs. Alexander — is recorded for posterity because unlike Henry David Thoreau, the Frederick woman owns a tape recorder and proceeded to preserve forever the entire dialogue.

“I have refused to file an income tax,” she told the IRS agent, “because a large part of what taxes I might pay would be used to finance the war of naked aggression in Southeast Asia.”

For the same reason, Mrs. Alexander told the IRS investigator, she has consistently refused to pay the 10 per cent federal excise tax on her telephone service, which, she alleges, was specifically levied by Congress to finance the Vietnam War.

“Instead of paying my taxes to the United States,” Mrs. Alexander informed the agent, “I voluntarily send the full amount monthly to aid the work of organizations engaged in anti-war activities and civil rights projects.”

When her interrogator produced an official government form seeking answers to such questions as where she did her banking, whether she hired a safe deposit box, and like personal matters, Mrs. Alexander reports that she definitely refused to give him any information of any character.

“I did not want to do his work for him,” she explains, “because then he would not be doing his job of collecting money to prosecute an unrighteous war.”

But the Frederick woman carefully explains that like Henry David Thoreau she is openly above board in all of her actions and has “nothing to conceal.”

“This is not tax evasion,” she carefully explains. “I am not trying to evade everything.

“It is just simple and out-right refusal to let any part of my earnings be used to wage war on a defenseless people.

“I will not be an accomplice or an accessory to the inhumane and barbarous war crimes being committed in the name of all Americans.”

One suspects that the admittedly courteous and considerate although futile visit of the IRS agent after four official letters had failed to receive any justification for the Frederick woman’s failure to file a tax return was as distasteful to her visitor as the arrest of the sage of Concord was to the rustic village constable of 125 years ago.

Similarly, he, too, was just doing his assigned duty.

But like the celebrated author of “Passive Resistance,” Mrs. Alexander is prepared and ready to go to jail for her beliefs.

And — as the IRS man told the Frederick woman as he pocketed his unfilled questionnaire and bowed himself out of her home — this is the very probable fate awaiting her if she persists in her own well publicized version of “Passive Resistance.”

Alexander responded with a letter to the editor in the issue:

Clarifies Position on Tax Non-Payment

To the Editor, Sir:

By way of clarification, I feel it necessary to supplement the News-Post editorial of , “Refusing to Pay Taxes,” with the following facts:

  1. I filed an income tax return for There is a law against not filing a return.
  2. I told IRS exactly what I had earned, the amount sent places other than to IRS, and enclosed a letter stating my position. I also filed an 843 claim form, for return of the amount of tax actually deducted . Form 843 is for reclaim of taxes “illegally, erroneously, or excessively collected.” The war against Southeast Asia is undeclared, therefore unconstitutional, therefore, illegal, and I can not recognize the authority of the government to collect and use my taxes for its perpetuation.

    Mr. Long could not have known how much money to collect if I had not filed a return. If I had wanted to be evasive, I would not have filed a return, but then it would not have been a visible protest.
  3. It was not my tape recorder. It was my son’s. It cost about $14.
  4. I publicized the IRS visit, to the extent that I could, knowing full well that it likely would lead to a more speedy prosecution by the government. In a letter to Mr. J. Monti, IRS office, Baltimore, Md., on , I stated in part, “I am obligated to see that there will be adequate publicity concerning this whole war tax refusal issue, no matter what you decide to do. I feel it is absolutely necessary that the general public be informed of the circumstances of the situation and what happens when an individual’s conscience gets in the way of the government, represented in this case, by the Internal Revenue Service.”

    The publicity was for the public’s benefit, and to my detriment. As I have stated before — the issue is important: I am not.
  5. Henry David Thoreau was never mentioned by either Mr. Long or myself, but I can think of no finer example to follow. Thoreau’s essay, “On Civil Disobedience” has been one of my greatest inspirations, also: A.J. Muste’s “Of Holy Disobedience,” which deals with conscript resistance; and Gandhi’s works, dealing with nonviolent direct action.
  6. , for my income, I find that I not only did not make enough to pay taxes, but do not even have to file a return. Nevertheless, I will file one, so that my protest will again be recorded with IRS. No money will be returned to me, because IRS did not receive any. In other words, there are employers who will not act as tax collectors for the government.
  7. Mr. Long’s visit was an unnerving experience, even though I had been expecting it for a long time. Even though he was not offensive or rude in his manner, it is unsettling to be confronted with the awesome power of the federal government. I expect that as more actions are taken by the Treasury Department, the pressure personally will be very hard to take. I hope that I will be able to “go the whole mile,” as Muste said.

Wars are fought with men and money. Wars will cease when men refuse to fight (as they are doing), and when we refuse to pay. This is the way that non-draftables can say no to the government, as many young men are saying no to the killing in Southeast Asia. It is a ludicrous situation when a country imprisons men who kill and also those who will not kill.

The edition of the News noted that a federal tax lien had been filed against her “in the amount of $245.35 and would be leveled against an estate sale.” (In the edition is a letter from Alexander disputing some of the details. She says the lien was filed on but that she was unable to get a copy of the filing.)

A Hagerstown, Maryland, Morning Herald article on the case described Alexander as “42 years old, a slender 5 feet, 3 inches tall, and the mother of a 20-year-old son.” An earlier article in the same paper () profiled her, and her tax resistance, in greater detail:

“I Think I’ve Gone the Whole Way I Can”

by Ned Bristol

 — The firebrand of the anti-war movement here is a 5 foot 3 middle-aged mother who hasn’t paid her telephone tax in eight months and doesn’t intend to pay her income tax.

She is Mrs. Helen G. Alexander, a leader of the Frederick Vietnam Moratorium Committee and activist in local civil rights efforts.

Small, bespectacled, a bit nervous, she doesn’t look the part. But her intensity and forthrightness indicate her strength of purpose. She believes the war is wrong and civil rights is right. She intends to do everything she can to end the former and further the latter. It’s a matter of conscience: “I feel the United States has to change its policy and I don’t know how else to do it except… to stop cooperating with things as they are. I think I’ve gone the whole way I can.”

Mrs. Alexander lives on Reels Mills Road two and a half miles east of town. Her husband John is afraid she might end up in jail. Her 19-year-old son Wayne was classified 4-F when he registered for the draft under protest. As for her husband’s fears, she admits “he may be right.” She says he tries to discourage her, but she insists on doing what she believes in her way.

“I wish I’d stopped (paying taxes) a long time ago. I’ve put myself in a position where I can refuse to cooperate and it makes me very happy.”

Mrs. Alexander was notified in that there would be a seizure of her property within 10 days for not paying her telephone excise taxes. She wrote the telephone company that she didn’t have anything to seize except some clothes, “none of which are very new.” To date there hasn’t been a seizure.

To make it as hard as possible for the government to collect her taxes, Mrs. Alexander has made sure all her family belongings are in her husband’s name and that her employer agreed not to withhold her federal taxes from her pay checks. She doesn’t own a car or have a bank account. “It’s very important that this be handled with me as an individual,” she says.

Because she hasn’t filled out a tax form yet, she doesn’t know exactly how much tax she won’t be paying. She calculates her telephone tax withholdings at $16 to $20. The 10 per cent excise tax added to phone bills was done so to support the war, Mrs. Alexander says.

Mrs. Alexander says withholding taxes is “a personal thing more than anything else,” but adds, “If I didn’t believe these things had some effect I’d throw up my hands and quit.”

As for how much effect her withholdings and demonstrations have had, Mrs. Alexander looks at it this way: the government needs manpower and money. The young men who are demonstrating against the draft and the war are doing their part to dry up the first and adults are trying to cut the latter. She says there are 20,000 persons in the country who refuse to pay their taxes. “As long as the military get their funds they can laugh up their sleeves and go ahead with what they want to do.”

Mrs. Alexander’s relationship with the military has come full circle. For nine years she was switchboard operator at Fort Detrick in Frederick, the nation’s biological warfare center. “I was a cog in the machine. I was perpetuating a policy to which I was adamantly opposed.” She quit in . she was demonstrating outside the installation with a group of Quakers. The Quakers were on a march from Philadelphia to Washington. Mrs. Alexander joined them for their rally in the capital. It wasn’t her first demonstration there.

Mrs. Alexander first became an activist in when she joined the march on Washington, although she says she was in sympathy with the civil rights movement before then. “When I personally saw that the black people were ready to move I wanted to move with them. It was time for the white people to get involved.”

Mrs. Alexander joined the local chapter of the NAACP and its executive committee. The NAACP has accomplished “a good bit” in the last few years, she says. “Even before they had laws on the books the NAACP was trying to get businessmen to realize there was an unequal employment situation.[”] Mrs. Alexander joined many marches and was an avid follower of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I guess nobody in Frederick walked with Dr. King more than I did.”

It was a matter of getting informed on the Vietnam War that led to Mrs. Alexander’s involvement with that movement and her disaffection with the military. She says she decided in , to withhold her federal taxes, but until couldn’t find an employer who would not automatically deduct her taxes. She is not working for the employer now and declined to say who it was. There were not many sympathizers then, Mrs. Alexander says. “I was pretty much alone until recently.”

The peace movement did not really surface in Frederick County until , Mrs. Alexander says, but now the Frederick Vietnam Moratorium Committee has a list of 120 supporters. The group sponsored demonstrations to coincide with national moratoriums and is planning local activities for . Although the group doesn’t have officers, (“Sometimes when you get organized things fold up.”), it does have leaders. One is Mrs. Alexander, although she is reluctant to admit it — not because she is afraid of being ridiculed, but because of modesty. “I guess I exert a bit of intensity on keeping it going,” she says after a bit of prodding, but later adds, “I couldn’t keep a peace movement going all by myself. Without them I’d be all alone again.”

A yet earlier () Morning Herald article put in this way:

Frederick Mom Refuses To Pay Vietnam War Tax

by David Lightman

 — Mrs. Helen G. Alexander refused to financially support the Vietnam war three months ago.

By refusing to pay the 10 per cent federal excise tax on her phone bill, she has saved over $1.20 monthly while registering her protest.

No formal action has been taken against her. Carl V. Weakley, of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland, said he has notified the local Internal Revenue Service of Mrs. Alexander’s actions twice.

The IRS has thus far taken no action.

Weakley said his organization “can’t do anything — we’re merely tax collectors.”

Mrs. Alexander agreed that the gripe is between her and the IRS.

She said the phone company shut off her telephone service after her first refusal, but restored it after one day.

“After all, it’s really no skin off the telephone company,” she said.

Mrs. Alexander wrote C & P a letter stating her intention not to pay the 10 per cent tax.

“If you, as a public utilities manager, feel that you must act as tax collector for the war machine, then you must act according to your conscience and do whatever you deem necessary,” part of the letter state.

She said she has sent the $4.64 to civil rights, peace, and poverty organizations.

“I really don’t know how my protest will affect anyone, though,” she said.

“It’s important to me personally to do this, and many people don’t know that it can be done. Maybe it’ll help them.”

Mrs. Alexander has a son who will be 19 years old soon. His draft classification is 4-F, physically unfit for military duty.

Among the newspaper clippings I read while researching this were some back-and-forth letters to the editor about the My Lai massacre, in which Alexander’s antagonists were every bit as bull-headedly stupid and morally repulsive as today’s Dick Cheney contingent. To them, the My Lai massacre was “alleged” and the victims were “so-called” innocents and there was no reason to doubt the official story unless you were a communist sympathizer and you should be ashamed of yourself for casting blame on our good and noble troops and so forth.

In a way it was kind of reassuring to realize that we haven’t so much recently descended into the repulsive situation in which our country finds itself, as much as we have still failed to climb out of it.