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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
the transcript of a
talk that Knaebel gave in
honor of the 75th anniversary of Gandhi’s salt
…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.
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