Attacks (and Threats) Against Tax Offices

Tax resistance is a time-honored tactic of nonviolent resistance, but it has also been used by movements or individuals that had little interest in holding to nonviolence. History gives us plenty of examples of people violently resisting taxation.

Today I’ll give some examples of attacks on tax offices, many of which were violent or included intimidation by threats of violence.

Bomb threats and “mysterious white powder”-type incidents

Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve kept half an eye on the news for examples of IRS offices being evacuated by explicit bomb threats or suspicious packages. Here are some examples:

  • : “The FBI is investigating after a mysterious white powder was sent to the IRS mail room in Fresno. The discovery forced the mail room to shut down for about three-and-a-half-hours afternoon.”
  • : “A hazardous materials scare forced a huge evacuation Tuesday of the IRS center in southeast Fresno. A mailroom employee thought he was opening a regular letter from a taxpayer. But when he opened it, a white powder spilled all over him.”
  • : “A letter containing a white powder and a note mentioning anthrax forced federal authorities to shut down the mailroom of the Kansas City IRS headquarters.… ‘We do not think this is going to be anthrax or any other biological agent, but we have to treat this to the Nth degree,’ Herndon said, adding that a field test found the substance likely to be talcum powder.”
  • : “Officials have given the ‘all clear’ after a letter containing a suspicious powder was received in the mailroom at the IRS office in the John Duncan Federal Office Building in Knoxville.”
  • : “Someone apparently trying to make a political statement caused a brief stir Tuesday at the Boulder office of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. … The Boulder Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team responded and opened the envelope. They found a tea bag inside, with a note reading, ‘We the People, .’ ”
  • : “A package of foot powder mailed from a prison ZIP code caused 250 workers to be evacuated Thursday from [the building containing the IRS offices] in the Flair Park area of El Monte.”
  • : “Michelle Lowry… who processes forms for the IRS in Austin, confronts that venom regularly. People slip razor blades and pushpins into the same envelopes as their W-2 forms. They send nasty notes with their crumpled documents. Last year during the height of the Tea Party movement, hundreds of taxpayers included — what else? — tea bags with their returns. And then there’s the weird stuff. ‘Sometimes you’ll see stuff that looks like blood on them,’ said Lowry, who has worked as a seasonal employee for five years. ‘We wear gloves.’ … She’s been through evacuations caused by suspicious items in the mail, such as white powder. (It turned out to be packing material.)”
  • : “A suspicious substance discovered Monday at an Internal Revenue Service building is not hazardous, a U.S. Postal Inspection Service official said. A portion of an office building that houses an Internal Revenue Service mail processing center was evacuated after an unknown substance was found about 11:15 a.m.” “ ‘There was an envelope that appeared to have seeds inside,’ Buttars said. ‘What it was is not known yet.’ ”
  • : “Hundreds of people had to evacuate, and dozens of downtown businesses were disrupted, all because of a suspicious package found near the IRS building — the contents of which were soon found to be harmless.”
  • : “Fox 4 reported that this was the second day in a row that workers had found a suspicious package. On Sunday, a powdery substance was found in an envelope (it wasn’t anything threatening).”
  • : “The FBI is now investigating a discovery at Ogden’s James V. Hansen Federal Building that caused a scare, and the evacuation of more than 200 employees.”
  • : “An inspector at the Fresno IRS noticed a package in the mail room with a suspicious odor. … The Fresno PD Bomb squad was called in and the contents inside the package were an unknown type of feces.”
  • : “Workers at a downtown Oklahoma City IRS building and people inside the Colcord Hotel were allowed to return after police investigated a suspicious package that was found Monday morning.”

And I think a quick Google News archives search would probably show me several other examples that never got on my radar.

Note that in many of these cases, there was no deliberate threat involved, but merely an over-cautious reaction based on previous threats. For example: The tactic of including a tea bag with your tax paperwork as a form of protest alluding to the Boston Tea Party has been a periodic American craze for over sixty years, but nowadays any tea-bag-sized lumps in envelopes are an occasion for a very disruptive evacuation and visit from the hazmat team.

And then there’s this:

  • : “Angry New Zealand farmers are reportedly sending parcels of cattle manure to cabinet ministers in a campaign against a so-called “flatulence tax” on their animals. New Zealand Post said it was treating the campaign “as seriously as cyanide”…”

Actual bombings and other attacks

In addition to these mailed threats and suspicious packages, most of which turn out to be bluffs, there have been cases of indisputably real attacks on tax offices. For example:

  • In , a letter bomb exploded in the hands of the director general of Equitalia, a quasi-private company that handles taxes in Italy. The following month, three bombs went off outside Equitalia’s offices in Naples. In another branch was struck with molotov cocktails. “The phrases ‘Thieves’ and ‘Death to Equitalia’ were sprayed onto outside walls.”
  • two farmers responded to tax officials who were a little too greedy in demanding bribes by emptying three bags of cobras in the tax office. (You can see a video of the cobra attack at this link.)
  • A couple of years back, a fellow named Joe Stack loaded up his small plane with fuel and flew it into the offices of the IRS, torching the building and killing an IRS employee (in addition to himself). National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley said that after Joe Stack’s kamikaze attack, “there were calls where taxpayers said they were thinking of ‘taking flying lessons’ in the context of an audit or a collection. There are 70 that have been reported.”
  • During the Poll Tax rebellion, “In Cambridgeshire two petrol bombs were thrown at the Poll Tax Headquarters and Anti-Poll Tax slogans were sprayed on the side of the building…”
  • , Jewish independence fighters bombed an income tax office in Palestine, killing a constable, and injuring five others. “All employes had been evacuated from the building following a telephone warning 10 minutes before the blast. Police said three Jews, one dressed as an Arab, pushed a bomb-laden, Arab-type delivery cart into the building and fled, after clubbing a Jewish policeman and snatching a rifle from an Arab guard. Police tried to drag the cart from the building, but the rope parted. They said they then detonated the bomb with rifle fire, but ‘miscalculated the charge.’ ”
  • In , the Railway Protection Movement in Sichuan destroyed tax offices there.
  • In St. Claire county, Missouri, in , “a gang of armed men rode into the county seat of Osceola and held tax officials at gunpoint while its members stole all the official tax records. … The gang destroyed the tax records, and that meant that the county had no way of taxing anyone.” A year and a half later: “Around midnight on , an armed gang forced Deputy Treasurer K.B. Wooncott to take its members to the county offices. The gang seized the railroad tax book and escaped into the night.”
  • During the rioting that followed the British parliament’s failure to pass the Reform Bill in , the mob burned the Custom-house and Excise-office, along with many other government buildings.
  • In Hippolyte Taine’s history of the French Revolution, he includes many examples of attacks on tax offices:
    • “the crowd, rushing off to the barriers, to the gates of Sainte-Claire and Perrache, and to the Guillotière bridge, burn or demolish the bureaux, destroy the registers, sack the lodgings of the clerks, carry off the money and pillage the wine on hand in the depôt.”
    • “At Limoux, under the pretext of searching for grain, they enter the houses of the comptroller and tax contractors, carry off their registers, and throw them into the water along with the furniture of their clerks.”
    • “at Aupt and at Luc nothing remains of the weighing-house but the four walls; at Marseilles the house of the slaughter-house contractor, at Brignolles that of the director of the leather excise, are sacked: the determination is ‘to purge the land of excise-men.’ ”
    • “…the windows of the excise office are smashed, and the public notices are torn down…”
    • “During the months of , the tax offices are burnt in almost every town in the kingdom.”
    • “Without waiting, however, for any legal measures, they take the authority on themselves, rush to the toll-houses and drive out the clerks…”
    • “…the pillagers who, on the , set fire to the tax offices…”
    Taine also notes that “in Issoudun after , against the combined imposts[, s]even or eight thousand vine-dressers burnt the archives and tax-offices and dragged an employé through the streets, shouting out at each street-lamp, ‘Let him be hung!’ ”
  • In Naples in , a tax revolt expressed itself with attacks on tax offices: “On one beautiful summer night the custom-house in the great market-place flew up into the air. A quantity of powder had been conveyed into it by unknown hands, and in the morning nothing remained but the blackened ruins.” “the populace proceeded from fruit to stones, put to flight the tax-gatherers and sbirri, crowded into the custom-house, destroyed the table and chairs, set fire to the ruins as well as the account-books, so that soon a bright flame rose up amidst the loud rejoicings of the bystanders.” The archbishop, under pressure from the crowd, “ordered them aloud, and in the presence of all, to pull down the custom-houses”

Nonviolent blockades and occupations

Nonviolent tactics have also been directed at disrupting tax offices. I mentioned the “Free Keene” activists in New Hampshire who were arrested for entering an IRS office and trying to convince the employees there to resign their positions. Here are some other examples:

  • Anti-war demonstrators used handcuffs to lock the doors of an IRS building in Rochester, New York, for about a half hour in .
  • Poll Tax resisters in Glasgow occupied a tax office, and, as the staff retreated, took their places at the walk-up windows. One of the occupiers, John Cooper, remembers: “I just sat down at the desk and said through the glass, ‘Can I help you?’ I says, ‘It’s okay; you don’t need to pay any more, it’s abolished!’ and the guy says, ‘Are you sure?’ I says, ‘I’m positive. You know what I’d do with this money: go and spend it, have a good time.’ He says, ‘You’re having me on.’ I could see the guy was still uncertain, so there was a bunch of pads for phone messages — I ripped one of them off and said, ‘If there’s any bother just send that in to us.’ ”
  • Another group of anti-war activists, including representatives from the War Resisters League and NWTRCC, performed a sit-down blockade at IRS headquarters for about an hour in .

Of course, governments rarely feel any restraint in responding violently to tax resistance. The Oswego Daily Times of reported this news of a particularly nasty example from Berlin:

Charged With Cruelty.

Gov. Liebert of German East Africa Said to Have Shot 2,000 Natives for Not Paying Taxes.

The Kolonial Zetic Zeitschrift accuses Governor [Eduard von] Liebert of German East Africa of fearful cruelties toward the natives under his jurisdiction. The inhabitants of one village to the number of 40 were shot dead for refusing to pay a few rupees. Altogether, the paper says 2,000 natives have been killed for refusing to pay taxes.

This was another colonial attempt to impose a “hut tax” that the locals didn’t much like. Liebert was recalled from his post in .