Restored Israel of Yahweh Tax Convications Overturned

As I noted , a judge overturned most of the convictions of the members of the Restored Israel of Yahweh who had been prosecuted for their war tax resistance and convicted in .

, they were resentenced on the remaining counts. Attorney Peter Goldberger filed a report, which I excerpt below:

Joe Donato, Inge Donato and Kevin McKee were re-sentenced… following the appellate reversal of twelve counts of employment tax evasion with which they had been charged, and the appellate ruling that Inge was also innocent of the two counts of alleged failure to file personal income tax returns for which the jury convicted her (as she had no taxable income in those years). There is more good news than bad.

Prior to resentencing, the government elected to dismiss the overturned counts, rather than conduct a retrial. Unfortunately, because the Third Circuit appeals court affirmed all three defendants’ convictions for conspiracy to defraud the United States in relation to those same employment taxes, they all ended up convicted of a felony, which in turn supported reimposition of almost the same sentences as originally. All received new prison sentences of the time they had already served following their original sentencings in  — 6 months for Inge, 27 months for Joe, and 24 months for Kevin. Although, incredibly, the prosecutor… asked that they be given longer prison terms, the judge gave that thought no consideration at all. However, Judge Simandle did reimpose the same fines ($50,000 on Inge, $5,000 on Joe, and $4,000 on Kevin), all of which had already been paid by their religious society.

On the bright side, however — and most important — the judge modified the terms of all three defendants’ post-incarceration supervised release… which runs for 3 years from their respective release dates. First, even though they are all now “convicted felons,” the judge ruled they can freely associate with one another, which would normally be prohibited. Second, for the express purpose of “accommodating” their religious beliefs, the judge changed the standard requirement of “regular gainful employment” to allow Joe and Kevin to substitute charitable or community service for paid employment, so they can keep their income below the taxable level while under supervision and thus avoid a further conflict with the government. (Inge is disabled from working, so that wasn’t a problem for her.)

Most gratifying, the judge clarified and modified the original special condition that they “fully cooperate with the IRS by filing all returns and paying current and delinquent taxes” to say instead that they must file all delinquent and current returns, to the extent required by law, going back 10 years — but he dropped the specification that they have to pay, so far as the court’s conditions are concerned. That, he expressly left to the IRS and its ordinary administrative remedies. This is what we had requested, and it removed our greatest worry. The RIOY defendants have reconsidered where they draw the line, and are now willing to file, although still not to pay. (The judge actually suggested they consider paying the non-military percentage of their taxes, which he speculated would be “more than 50%.” I didn’t offer him a pie chart.)

The judge came very close to terminating Inge’s supervision entirely as of today, but in the end deferred that until the returns are filed. All three defendants gave very moving statements to the judge prior to sentencing.… All in all, it was not a bad day; we got about 85–90% of what we were hoping for. It is very unlikely there would be any further appeal.

David Z at …no third solution writes about War Tax Resistance and Agorism. It starts out with this:

Some people think that a good tactic is to withhold some amount of their taxes due, in order to prevent the government from using that money to finance its empire-building. This is a symbolic gesture, at best, because it’s not going to prevent the government from monetizing more debt and stealing the value of your savings through inflation.

Cindy Sheehan also calls tax resistance “symbolic” in the Fog City Journal:

Consider withholding all or part of your Federal Income Tax until US troops are withdrawn from the Middle East. Tax-resistance is a time-honored and courageous form of protest (purely symbolic because of borrowing and deficit spending, but I can look at myself in the mirror because I don’t contribute any of my money to the war machine).

I’ve seen this argument before, and it really frustrates me.

It’s like a military commander saying “well, if we confidently defend our left flank, the enemy will just attack us from the right, so we might as well not bother.”

The government has many tools that it can use to raise funds to buy what it wants, or, hell, it can just steal what it wants if it comes down to it. But each of these options has a set of costs to the government, and at any time, the government will likely choose from these many options the one that costs the least (give-or-take government stupidity, inefficiency, lack of foresight and so forth). It’s a perfectly reasonable thing for anti-government activists to want to restrict these choices or to try to make the choice that is currently most favorable to the government less so.

If the government is currently funding something with tax dollars rather than with seigniorage or debt, it’s presumably doing this because, for whatever reason, it finds it advantageous to do so. If we can make the government fall back on its second-best choice, one that costs the government more — that counts as a (small, partial) victory. It’s going to take a lot of such small, partial victories to add up to any big wins, but that doesn’t mean that such victories are failures or “purely symbolic” things. Making the opposition expend ever more resources to meet its goals is the slow, steady path to victory.

This sort of “it’s only symbolic, it’s not really important” thinking is usually accompanied by gestures of capitulation. Mr. Z goes on to say that “all efforts to resist paying a portion of one’s income taxes are essentially futile, because one is still paying all other forms of taxes…” In other words, I may as well not fight the battle, because even if I win, I still won’t have won the war.

Mr. Z’s call for anarchists to “lead the way for ‘off the books’ transactions, making them more available” is followed not by some good examples of how he does this, but with what seems to be a demand that these anarchists be more-or-less completely victorious in this task before he joins them: “Find me a way to buy my house, agorist-style, and I’ll listen.”

(Cindy Sheehan, on the other hand, lists a number of actions individuals can take, and notes that “Nothing will change as long as we sit around wringing our hands and whining that there is nothing that we can do about the mess we’re in.” That’s more like it.)