Tax Resisters Can Enlist Supporters in the Tax Agency Itself

One way a tax resistance campaign can get a leg up is through the acts of sympathizers within the tax collection bureaucracy itself. After all, they’re taxpayers too, and may feel more loyalty to their fellow-subjects than to the government they’re subjected to.

To this end, some tax resistance campaigns have made strides by encouraging resignations, defections, and goldbricking among those responsible for carrying out the tax laws.

In this, they’re following the lead of Thoreau, who wrote:

If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, “But what shall I do?” my answer is, “If you really wish to do anything, resign your office.”

Today I’ll give some examples of tax resistance campaigns that tried to persuade the tax collector to switch teams.

Free Keene

A group of activists in Keene, New Hampshire, ranging from Christian anarchists to “Free State Project” ballot-box libertarians, has been experimenting with a number of creative civil disobedience projects.

In , Russell Kanning went to the Keene branch of the Internal Revenue Service and tried to hand out leaflets to the employees there. The leaflets quoted from the tribunal that presided over war crimes trials in Japan after World War Ⅱ to the effect that people are obligated personally to disengage from the crimes of their governments, and then provided a sample letter these employees could send to resign from their jobs.

Kanning was arrested by agents from the Department of Homeland Security and charged with distributing materials in a federal building and failure to obey a lawful order. After he was booked and released, he immediately returned to the IRS office to try again (without the leaflets, which had been confiscated). He was arrested again and charged with disorderly conduct.

A few months later, Dave Ridley followed-up on Kanning’s action, at the Nashua IRS office. He silently held up a sign that read “Is it right to work for the IRS?” and passed a leaflet through the window that read in part:

I have the right to remain silent. IRS agents have the right to quit their jobs. If that is not possible, they have a responsibility to work as inefficiently as possible when taking our money, and as quickly as possible when returning it.

The police were summoned and hustled him out of the building. They later cited him for “distribution of handbills.”

Kat Kanning and Lauren Canario were the next activists in line, going to the Keene IRS office with a “Taxes pay for torture” sign and a stack of leaflets. They were charged with “disorderly conduct and loitering, failure to obey a lawful order.”

At every stage in the process, they tried to directly but non-aggressively confront not only the IRS employees, but also the Homeland Security officers, court bailiffs, judges, and other government collaborators: asking them why they were interfering with American citizens “petitioning their government for redress of grievances,” and asking them to consider taking up a more honorable line of work.

The first intifada

At the launching of the first “intifada” resisting Israeli rule over Palestinians, Palestinians who worked for the tax department under the Israeli occupation resigned their posts. As a result of this and of organized tax resistance, only about 20% of Palestinians subject to Israeli taxes in the West Bank paid their taxes in 1993, the last year before Israel relinquished taxing authority there to the Palestinian Authority.

Greek tax and customs officials

Complicating the Greek government’s campaign to bring in more tax revenue during the recent Euro-region financial brouhaha, bureaucrats in the Greek tax and customs office periodically went on strike to protest the accompanying austerity measures that cut funding for state employees.

British nonconformists

British members of nonconforming Christian sects who did not want to see their tax money going towards schools that taught children the official, government supported faith, resisted their taxes. The newspapers reported:

In Lincolnshire, the sitting magistrate recently refused to try cases of resistance, and left the bench. Difficulty is experienced everywhere in getting auctioneers to sell the property confiscated.

Whiskey Rebellion

As I mentioned earlier this month, part of the problem the fledgeling United States government had when trying to enforce its excise tax against the Whiskey Rebels was that it had a devil of a time convincing anyone to serve as a prosecutor or exciseman.

From the beginning, the Whiskey Rebels counted on being able to convince their neighbors not to help the federal government enforce the tax. George Washington’s Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton complained to him:

The opposition first manifested itself in the milder shape of the circulation of opinions unfavorable to the law, and calculated by the influence of public disesteem to discourage the accepting or holding of offices under it…

Annuity Tax resisters

During the resistance against the Annuity Tax in Edinburgh, Scotland, a number of members of the town council who were members of churches other than the tax-supported establishment church resigned rather than be party to administering the act that enacted the tax.

Auctioneers whom the government usually could call upon to preside at tax auctions refused to take the contracts, and carters whom ordinarily could be contracted to cart the goods refused, and so the town had to hire someone new at a higher rate, and purchase new vehicles to haul seized property about.

Teatre Bescanó, a theater company from Girona, Spain, responded to a 21% rate of value-added tax applied to theater tickets in a clever way. Now, instead of selling theater tickets, they offer a free performance for anyone who purchases a kilo of carrots from their produce stand (at a 4% VAT rate).