Active Ways to Drain Government Coffers

This is from a series of pages on sources of federal war spending other than the federal income tax and strategies that war tax resisters can use to reduce their support of the government in these areas.

Active Methods of Depleting Government Coffers


Anti-war activists turn to war tax resistance for any of a number of related reasons: to amplify their protest, as a form of conscientious objection, or as an attempt to reduce the resources available to the government to carry out its wars.

If you are motivated by the last of these motivations, you may also be interested in more active ways of reducing government coffers that go beyond refusal to consent to taxation.

Some of these methods go pretty far afield from war tax resistance, and so this page only mentions them in passing as examples of ways some resisters at some times have chosen to actively deplete government resources that might otherwise be spent on war.


Filing Paper Returns

These days, more and more people are filing their income tax returns electronically. This saves the IRS money, as it costs about 35¢ on average for the agency to process an electronically-filed return, compared to an average of $2.87 for a paper return. You can reduce the efficiency of the government’s tax system, and thereby the amount of collected taxes available for the government to spend on the military, by filing paper returns rather than filing electronically.

George Jakabcin, the IRS assistant deputy associate chief information officer for systems integration, said that if half of the people who currently file electronically switched back to paper filing, “we would be in a world of hurt. We no longer have the capability to process the additional 43 million returns manually. We no longer have the facilities, we don’t have the IT infrastructure in place to support them, we don’t have the people, and some would begin to argue that we are beginning to lose the expertise.”

In addition, the IRS is less able to track the items on paper returns, which limits the amount of data available to its enforcement arm. Until everyone (or almost everyone) switches to electronic filing, much of the information on everyone’s tax return is unavailable to the IRS’s automated compliance checking programs. By filing a paper return, you help diminish the ability of the IRS to go after tax resisters and evaders.

Disabling Tax-Collection Equipment

During the Vietnam War, anti-war activists in the United States interfered with military conscription by destroying the files at draft boards. War tax resisters might respond to the financial conscription of war taxes in an analogous way.

Many historical populist tax resistance movements have included actions intended to disable or destroy the tax collecting apparatus. For example:

  • A group in Arizona upset at automated traffic ticket-dispensing cameras dressed up in Santa suits and disabled the cameras by wrapping them in gift boxes.
  • Jack-a-Lents and “Rebeccaites” in England and Wales destroyed toll booths.
Harassing Tax Collectors

Another way of making the government’s tax collection process less-efficient and thereby making less money available to the government for war is to make the jobs of tax collectors more difficult.

  • In , when two war tax resisters in the Basque region of Spain were assessed a fine for their resistance, they paid the fine with 20,000 pennies.
  • American revolutionaries famously used “tar and feathers” to show tax collectors they were not wanted.
  • Many people in the American TEA Party movement sent tea bags in with their tax returns. This seems benign enough, but the IRS has seen so many dangerous-looking things come to its mailrooms (razor blades, powder meant to look like poison) that they tend to overreact and shut down their operations for a hazardous materials team to come inspect whenever they find anything out-of-the-ordinary in an envelope.
Applying for Government Handouts

Some resisters reason that it is not ethical to apply for government benefits and other handouts while at the same time trying to resist some or all federal taxes. Other resisters think that there is no contradiction between refusing to pay for war and taking advantage of other parts of the government. Still others think that any act that takes money from the government that it might otherwise spend on war is probably a good thing and they seek to maximize the amount of money they extract from the government.

Applying for Additional Tax Refunds

One way to take money out of the government’s pocket is to apply for tax “refunds” above and beyond any that you are legally entitled to.

During the Vietnam War, it was common for American war tax resisters to do this by declaring extra dependents on their tax returns. Martha Tranquilli, for instance, on her income tax return declared the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the War Resisters League, the American Civil Liberties Union, the International League for the Rights of Man, and the American Friends Service Committee as her dependents. “By claiming these organizations,” she said, “this reduced my taxable income by about 60 per cent, which would go to war. These groups were entitled to my money. They were my dependents in as much as I support them.”

Now, with the expansion of the IRS’s use of the frivolous filing penalty, this approach is more daunting.

Some people, including many who are imprisoned in the U.S. prison system, simply fabricate tax returns with numbers optimized to maximize the amount of refundable tax credits and other refunds. For example, over a thousand prisoners made implausible claims for the “first-time homebuyer tax credit” on their returns and received over nine million dollars in refunds as a result. “I’m through with the street crime,” said prisoner Shawn Clark, “I’m strictly white collar from now on. I love the IRS!”

Keeping Bureaucrats Busy with Worthless Paperwork / Overcompliance

The more time, effort, and money the government wastes on paperwork and bureaucracy, the less time, effort, and money it has to devote to torturing prisoners, bombing weddings, and launching invasions.

In , after the IRS hit war tax resister Karl Meyer with a “frivolous filing penalty,” he responded with what he called “Cabbage Patch Resistance” — filing a new and different tax return every day to flood the IRS with paperwork.

Destroying or Sabotaging Government Property

By destroying or sabotaging government property, you make it more expensive for the government to do business, and thereby reduce the amount of money it can spend on the activities, like war, it prefers to replacing damaged equipment. Property with a direct link to the military is a favorite target.

Anti-war activists around Shannon Airport in Ireland on a number of occasions disabled U.S. military aircraft that were using that airport to ferry troops and supplies to the Iraq War. For instance, Mary Kelly took an axe to a U.S. Navy 737, doing $1.5 million in damage, and Ulla Roder disabled a RAF Tornado fighter jet. Such activists have won surprising victories in court by convincing juries that they were acting on the basis of necessity.

Another group disabled 35 refueling trucks at the Fairford military base in England around the same time.

More recently, anti-war activists broke in to the ITT/EDO-MGM arms factory in Brighton, England to destroy equipment involved in the manufacture of parts for fighter jets and guided missiles and bombs. Operating under cover of night, the half-dozen decommissioners did about £250,000 in damage. A police inspector said that “machinery and equipment were so targeted that it could have been done with a view of bringing business to a standstill. The damage is significant and the value substantial.” They were acquitted. One reacted to the verdict by saying: “It’s a real victory for the anti-war movement, The jury were presented with the facts and they supported our motivations. If people in Britain knew the truth away from media manipulations they would all support our actions.”

In a similar action, another set of activists did £350,000 of damage at a Raytheon plant in Derry, Northern Ireland, and then were acquitted of all charges by a unanimous jury after they argued that they were acting to prevent war crimes. Raytheon’s U.S.-side managers concluded that “the legal system in Northern Ireland does not offer the degree of protection to their business that could be expected in other parts of the world,” and the company decided to abandon their Derry plant.

Encouraging Soldiers to Desert

Encouraging soldiers to desert or defy orders, supporting conscientious objectors, and counter-recruitment, are all ways of (among other things) making it more difficult and expensive for the government to maintain its ability to conduct wars. Groups like Courage to Resist and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors do great work in this area.

War tax resisters can be particularly credible messengers in trying to persuade military personnel to resist since we, too, are taking risks in our noncompliance. Conversely, we can help to influence those who promote conscientious objection in soldiers to practice it as taxpayers. As Thoreau complained: “The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war.”

Resigning Government Jobs

By resigning your government job, even one which is itself fairly benign, you deprive the government of additional resources and force it to spend more on replacing you. You also signal your disgust with the government’s activities and your unwillingness to be associated with it. Gandhi and Tolstoy were among the theorists of nonviolent resistance who made resignation of government posts an important part of their strategic thinking.

Blockading Government Facilities

If you can prevent a government facility or that of a military contractor from operating, to that extent you can cost the war machine time, money, and other resources.

The ports in Tacoma, Washington, Oakland, California, and Olympia, Washington have been successfully blockaded on occasion by anti-war protesters to prevent the loading of ships destined for battlefields around the globe.

On the anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War in , members of the War Resisters League were arrested blockading the IRS building in Washington. “Just as military recruiters supply bodies for the war, the IRS supplies the funding,” said war tax resister Ed Hedemann. “So, I’m doing my part in disrupting that relentless flow of money by standing in front of the IRS entrance and by refusing to send my taxes to the IRS.”