War Tax Resister Karl Meyer

From the Chicago Tribune comes this profile of tax resister Karl Meyer:

Karl Meyer lives in a community of Tennessee pacifists and survives with the help of a vegetable garden and bread foraged from the trash behind a Nashville bakery.

A carpenter who earns most of his income during the 2½ months he works in Chicago every year, Meyer lives simply and tries to keep his income low to avoid paying taxes to the military.

Even when he does earn enough to owe income taxes, as he did last year, he doesn’t file, in a protest against defense spending. He has done jail time for income tax evasion, and the IRS once seized his Chevrolet station wagon.…

“I just don’t believe in it,” said Meyer, 67. “I believe if we had spent an equivalent amount of money on development around the world, we wouldn’t have an enemy out there.”…

Tax resisters’ methods vary. The most defiant don’t file at all or send in specious IRS forms as a statement, as Meyer has done. They may claim as dependents the entire population of the Earth or all poor Americans.

Others, often self-employed, do not withhold taxes from their earnings and refuse to write the IRS a check on April 15. And still others take a legal but self-sacrificing approach: making sure their income is so small that they don’t have to pay taxes. For most taxpayers under 65 in , that means $7,950 for a single person or $15,900 for a married couple filing jointly[sic].…

Timothy Godshall, outreach and development director at the National Campaign for a Peace Tax in Washington, asks his employers to keep his pay below a taxable level.

“Whether I’m the one who’s actually fighting in the military or I’m paying my earned dollars to have someone else fight or to have weapons produced, I don’t see a moral difference between those two,” he said.

Chicago resident Carol Rose intentionally keeps her income below taxable levels as co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, which has offices in Chicago and Toronto. The group sends volunteers to areas of conflict to do work such as escorting Palestinian children to school or drawing up human rights reports in Iraq.

Rose said she once surprised a Mennonite church where she was pastor by asking for a salary cut.

Meyer, who long lived in Chicago, tried to stir up a tax protest here in by filing 365 frivolous tax forms — one for every day of the year. But he said he no longer hears from the IRS.

“They want publicity where people are quaking in their boots,” Meyer said, “not where a person says I’m not afraid of you in the least, and I will never pay for the things you are spending money for.”

Nice article, though the journalist manages to step in my pet peeve of exaggerating the difficulty of getting under the tax line. Don’t you wish there were some sort of common journalistic clearinghouse where you could go to clear up popular misconceptions like this so they don’t just get repeated over and over again until they take on the appearance of fact?

I worry that the journalists may actually be getting this misinformation from the war tax resisters themselves. The news that you don’t have to live under the poverty line to live under the tax line has travelled slowly through tax resistance circles, alas.

Welcome to the team, Joanna Karl, who tells the Corvalis Gazette-Times “I struggle deeply around paying my federal tax bill, and have decided not to. As a conscientious war tax resister, I will instead redirect my money to socially constructive projects — and hope for a life-affirming future.”

Well, golly. A long while back I was in the local university library doing some research on this and that, and I found an article in a journal called Gandhi Marg by Jeff Knaebel, titled “Some Thoughts on Civil Disobedience: My Duties and Responsibilities.”

I xeroxed some excerpts from the article to bring home, intending to do a Picket Line post about Knaebel’s tax resistance, but I never got around to it.

I think in part I just didn’t know what angle to take. Knaebel, see, is hard core. People sometimes hear about what I’m doing and shake their heads and say “I don’t think I could do anything quite that radical” but what I’m doing is just a frivolous hobby compared to Knaebel.

He started out as a pretty much All-American Boy type, from the sounds of it:

I served my country across a span of 30 years in a range of voluntary humanitarian and public service. My work received awards and recognition from all levels of citizenship, including local community organizations, a State governor, Secretary of the US Cabinet and the President. As an entrepreneur, I founded companies that created hundreds of jobs and financed a lot of kids through school, paid a lot of taxes. I founded non-profit charitable organizations, co-created a new Montessori school, an adult learning center and indigenous social programmes. I did significant work in the largest native American land settlement in history. I obeyed the laws of my country.

It may sound like he’s tooting his own horn a bit, but this catalog of deeds is a deliberate “moral inventory” that he took in order to decide whether he “had earned the moral authority” to engage in Gandhian civil disobedience:

The following are required in order to earn the moral authority to make a distinction between moral and immoral law. One must have obeyed consistently the law of his country. He must have served society. Must have embarked upon the work of self-purification and be adhering to the five basic moral precepts. Must have met his family obligations and made arrangements for them to be covered in his absence. Must be prepared for self-sacrifice, discomfort, possibly hardship. One cannot disobey the law while continuing to live under its protection and with its comforts which are financed by the other citizens who are obeying it. One must strive for harmony of thought-word-deed. To think one thing, say another, and do a third is a lie. One must be prepared to embark upon a programme of constructive service to humanity along with self-sacrifice.

What prompted Knaebel to choose this path? “As I slowly progressed in self-purification and spiritual growth through meditation practice as taught by the Buddha,” he writes, “the inner moral conflict and despair arising from the knowledge that my labour — through the income tax — was being used to kill innocent civilians, women, and children, at many places around the world became unbearable.”

Knaebel first tried to find a way to satisfy his conscience while staying in the law as a good citizen and government supporter. He quickly found that no such path was available: “it is clear that a citizen acting as an individual has no chance against the government in matters of conscientious objection to the income tax [and] that withholding the ‘war portion’ of a tax is ineffective. It would be like trying to distinguish blood corpuscles which serve the liver from those that serve the lung.”

It is incomprehensible that any government has a moral right to force a person to kill, or through taxation to finance killing and even mass extermination of innocent human beings… The government, having no moral right to require my participation, must rely on brute force to coerce my payment of taxes… I cannot obey the law without violating my conscience and my loyalty to the human race… The only safe and honorable course for me to keep my self-respect was to disobey and willingly face the penalties.

But that’s not all…

Having made the decision to cease filing and paying income tax, I undertook a radical reorganization of my life. I would have to emigrate, to become a “tax exile.” It would not be right to benefit from the facilities and protection of my country while not paying my share. Reorganization had to be in gradual steps because of obligations to children. Only when the youngest reached majority could I make the final move. Withdrawing from my businesses, I began devoting myself to a wide range of humanitarian service without pay.… The needs of my life could be met out of savings on which taxes had already been paid.

No income tax would be due for the remainder of my life. As a tax protestor I cannot in good conscience make a claim for Social Security retirement benefits. The funds I paid to Social Security over a period of 40 years are lost to me. It is part of the price of freedom.

When my youngest child reached majority, I moved to India. I ceased filing tax returns. Demands by mail notwithstanding, I believe that filing is not required if the taxpayer has no income.…

The path of civil disobedience marked out by Gandhi requires self-sacrifice, self purification, and a constructive humanitarian programme to run alongside the action of non-cooperation with evil. Here in an Indian village I rent two rooms of stone and mud, take two meals per day of rice-lentils-chapatti, bathe with a bucket of hand-carried cold water and use the same open field toilet as my Indian hosts. My basic cost of living is about Rs 2000 per month (less than $50).…

My decision to undertake civil disobedience through emigration and self-imposed exile has entailed some hardship and risk. My wife refused to live in India and found long periods of separation to be unacceptable. She divorced me. The life of an aging foreigner alone and homeless in India is not easy. It is painful to be separated from family, friends, and homeland. There are problems with safe water, food, health, sanitation, and personal security. The cold of snowy winter in unheated rooms is penetrating. Support arrangements are unstable and keep on dissolving. Obstacles of language and culture are daunting. It is a 2–3 day journey by jeep, bus, and train to the nearest bona fide medical doctor. Hospitals of which I have personal knowledge are filthy and septic. Disease is prevalent, civil disturbances are rampant, and war is an ever-present threat. Everywhere I witness poverty, misery, and suffering.

Zoinks! You can see why I had a hard time coming to grips with this. I spend a lot of effort on this site trying to convince people that tax resistance is something that can be done in relative comfort, without a great deal of personal sacrifice. You don’t have to live in a cave! And then here comes Jeff Knaebel, who is, well, pretty much sacrificing everything and living in a cave (or close to it, at the end of his article he says he’s planning “to build a meditation hut” “[h]igh above a mountain village in the Himalaya.”)

Why am I bringing this up ? Well, when I first brought home the xeroxed excerpts of Knaebel’s article, I of course spent some time trying to track him down via Google. To no great surprise, I found that there wasn’t much record of him on-line. Probably no decent broadband up there in the hut. But then LewRockwell.com posted the transcript of a talk that Knaebel gave in honor of the 75th anniversary of Gandhi’s salt march:

…The baseline fact is that the various Nation-States of this small and lonely planet have murdered around 200 million people in wars and internal conflicts during . They have indirectly destroyed many millions more lives through Corporate-State institutionalized economic exploitation and ecological destruction.

From these facts arise the questions: Who are we?

What do we think we are doing?…

What was Gandhiji doing at Dandi? Of course we know it was a protest against taxes imposed by the State, which were used to finance further exploitation and oppression of the people.

Gandhi taught Ahimsa, compassionate non-violence. Taxation is the expropriation of private property under threat of violence. What is this if not theft? What is theft if not violence? Is this what Gandhi taught?…

From whence comes the finance for Nation-States to murder 200 million people in ? It comes from taxes mostly. Who paid the taxes? Was it not us as citizens? So, who financed the murder and who is responsible?…

Peace is, at minimum, the absence of violence or threat of violence against persons and their property. The State uses threats of force against my person and property if I don’t pay taxes. Then it uses my tax money to murder innocent women and children in far away lands. This is the breeding cycle of State-Corporate-sponsored escalating violence, opposite of Gandhi’s humane non-violence, opposite of the moral choice promulgated by all great wisdom teachings of humanity.

Power, especially power in a centralized government, promotes violence. “War is the health of the State.” Only Liberty promotes non-violence. Gandhi was a revolutionary for Liberty.