“Cabbage Patch Resistance” marks a true war-tax hero
by Stephen Brockmann
By April 15 of any year most of the people in this country who earn money will have paid their taxes to the federal government. Some of them will cheat, but most of them will be honest.
Many of the people who pay their taxes may do so reluctantly. They disagree with the federal government about the way their money is spent but pay their taxes anyway. That is the consensus on which the government’s ability to operate is based.
Year after year a small proportion of people refuse to pay all or part of their federal taxes. Some of these people are libertarians who radically question the government’s right to assess taxes; others disagree with the government on specific issues. Some of them have good arguments; some of them don’t.
The case of one man who refused to pay his taxes this year strikes me as particularly interesting and creative. The man’s name is Karl Meyer, and he is part of a small but determined group of war-tax resisters who refuse to pay their federal income tax because they do not want their money spent on nuclear war.
A year ago the Internal Revenue Service started assessing $500 fines for what it labels “frivolous” tax returns; in this case “frivolous” meant anything from actually refusing to pay all or part of one’s tax to simply writing a message of protest or using a phony name on the tax form.
It seems to me that the IRS’ choice of “frivolous” is remarkably poor. The people against whom it is levying $500 fines are the opposite of frivolous: They take the tax form and their own actions with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, the IRS seems to be fining them because they are not frivolous.
Karl Meyer’s response to this “frivolous” fine was both clever and thoughtful: He decided to call the government’s bluff and see how far it would go with the frivolous $500 fine. Meyer published a statement in the monthly peace-movement forum The Peacemaker, announcing his intention of sending in a tax return for every day of the year. The government might be able to collect $500 from him, but it would have difficulty collecting 365 times that amount.
Meyer urged other people to follow his example or to come up with creative ideas of their own. He called his project the “Cabbage Patch Resistance” after the name of the popular doll: Like the dolls, each of his 365 tax returns would be slightly different, each with a special anti-war message. The government would have to test its frivolity in 365 cases.
One year later the IRS has called Meyer’s call of the IRS bluff: As of recently, Meyer had accumulated $135,000 in frivolous penalties and interest for the income tax returns he filed . Meyer, who is 47 and married, has three children in high school and college. A self-employed carpenter in Chicago, he has a long history of fighting with the IRS. In he spent nine months in prison for his beliefs.
Meyer’s example has until now had only modest outward success: Six people appear to be following it.
All this interests me because, like Meyer, I oppose this government’s frivolous nuclear-war policy. I favor disarmament and believe that the government is doing less than nothing to promote peace.
I believe in many of the things that Meyer believes in, and yet, unlike Meyer, I am a conspicuously law-abiding person. I am not married, nor do I have children, and so my failure to break the law has nothing to do with fear for dependents. I am, quite simply, afraid for myself. Insanely, my fear of immediate personal discomfort is more effective than the deeper fear of ultimate nuclear destruction. In that sense, I suppose I am irresponsible and frivolous.
Oh yes, I believe in taxes and government. I am neither an anarchist nor a libertarian. Under normal circumstances I would have no qualms about paying taxes, even for things that I don’t like.
Many of my friends are daring and admirable in their principled civil disobedience, both to taxes and to weapons that taxes pay for, but I am not a particularly courageous man.
I am not a criminal, and I am not a hero. I am a comfortable petty bourgeois living in a time with plenty of criminals and a few heroes.
Which is why Karl Meyer makes me stop and think. A man willing to risk so much to gain so much, and for such a good cause, is rare. Karl Meyer is my hero.
Among those who tried Meyer’s “Cabbage Patch Resistance” techniques was P.A. Trisha of New Hampshire. Trisha filed weekly tax returns in a direct challenge to the “frivolous” filing penalties. “I wish to find out not if the IRS believes in and honors the right of free speech and freedom of religious expression, but rather how much and in what context they will be tolerant of that right.”