War Tax Resisters in Albuquerque

, Albuquerque’s local newsweekly, the Alibi, published a feature by Singeli Agnew about war tax resisters. Here are a few excerpts:

Maureen, an Albuquerque peace activist in her 40s who just recently began resisting taxes, credits a situation that happened in for planting the seed that now inspires her resistance. Alexander Haig, secretary of state during the Reagan Administration, commenting on anti-nuclear weapon protesters gathered outside the White House said, “Let them protest, as long as they are paying taxes.”

“For me,” Maureen said, “I think this kind of lay dormant. You know how you get influenced by something but you don’t act on it but it stays. [Haig’s comment] was truly to me a revelation, like, ‘you know you can stand there, you can go on a hunger strike, you can fast and you can march and have your signs, but we have your money and we’re going to do what we want with it.’ And that I think stuck with me in a big way, even though I didn’t really start acting on it until recently.”

Maureen said that more and more people are beginning to connect their money with war. “Now that people are struggling with health care, 30 percent of Americans are living on $8 an hour or less, the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing — people are becoming more aware of this and they hear, ‘Oh yeah, they’re spending a billion dollars a day in Iraq.’ People are like, ‘Wait a minute, they need to be spending that money here.’ So even if they’re not necessarily anti-war… people start to get it.”

Max and Nancy Rice, Albuquerque residents and long-time peace activists, have been involved in several methods of resistance for several decades. They claim that they got a refund back one year after claiming “war tax deductions” in the “Other Deductions” column. The IRS overlooked the details and dutifully sent a check. The Rices took the refund, matched it with money of their own, and donated half the money to hospitals in North Vietnam, and half to hospitals in South Vietnam, publicizing the event openly.

Max Rice is one of the few people who have served time in jail for war tax resistance. Only about 20 people have been jailed in the last 60 years for reasons related to war tax resistance. In Rice’s case, the charge was actually contempt of court, for failing to provide financial information requested by the IRS.

Aanya Adler Friess is an activist in her 70s living in Albuquerque who also began resisting taxes during the Vietnam War. Recently, she has lived below the taxable minimum, but still finds ways to be active around the issue. Her primary method of resistance when she did owe taxes was to include a letter with her tax return, indicating the amount she was refusing to pay. A letter from states: “Please Note: I owe the IRS $87 for . [I am] a tax protester of conscience, protesting the huge military budget which has crippled the economy of the USA and which is in no way related to defense needs but only to enrichment of the military industries. We are now seeing, finally, the results of 45 years of Cold War idiocy! I believe that eventually the military budget will be reduced, for economic reasons. I, in the meantime, will continue to withhold one-third of my taxes until the defense budget is reduced to some reasonable level. Therefore I am refusing to pay $30 of my tax. I enclose my check of $57. The refused portion will be added to the Albuquerque War Tax Alternative fund and interest on the fund is given to peace and other life affirming organizations. Signed, Yours Sincerely…”

At one point, the IRS entered her bank account and appropriated approximately $1,500, Aanya said. “It took so much time and effort. I mean, I’m not afraid of the penalties particularly, because I wouldn’t go to jail, I would pay the money. But, you’re costing them money and making them work to get your tax. It’s a very cumbersome process.”

“The fear of the IRS has been so strong,” Maureen added. “People think ‘Oh, they’re going to come and take everything away and throw you in jail.’ I know I would be not truthful if I said I’m not worried about this, or I don’t think about dealing with some of that one day. It is very scary. So that’s why I think it’s kind of like taking little baby steps. You try something, see what happens and then maybe you get a little braver about it.” The IRS wields power by making the tax system complicated, and changing it all the time to keep people confused and a bit intimidated. People think breaking the law means you automatically are in jeopardy of losing everything.

“It’s always a process,” Aanya contends, “You have control because you can always give them the money. I know where my limits are, so I wouldn’t go to jail. My main concern is, do I want my time and energy to go into fighting the IRS, is that a good use of my limited resources?”

The advantage for those that don’t file is that they can often escape being noticed. It is common, especially for women, to change their tax status or change their names, things which make it easy to get overlooked by the IRS.

“Any time that your fighting a really huge bureaucratic organization, it’s going to suck up a lot of time and energy (trying) to build an alternative world. I want to be organic gardening, and looking into alternative energy… that’s one of the reasons I haven’t written a letter” Maureen said. “My philosophy has been well, if they figure it out, let them come get it from me.”

Also, in the U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. It has been sponsored most years since, but has failed to pass into law. It would provide a legal means to direct one’s personal income taxes toward nonmilitary uses. Some war tax resistors disagree with the proposal, however, feeling that someone else would simply pick up the amount, failing to affect the amount we spend on military. It would make it easier for people to “swaddle the fact” that they were paying for war, Max Rice said. Theoretically one’s federal taxes would be going to peaceful purposes, such as roads and social services, but someone else would just be picking up the amount missing from the military budget.

“That’s going to undercut the whole idea of tax resistance.” Rice added. “We need to resist the evil that we know is much huger. If people have a legal out then they’re not going to deal with the fact that so much of their money goes to the military.”

Bill Brunson, an IRS spokesperson in Phoenix who was contacted for this article, said he wasn’t aware of war tax resistance as a movement. Eighty five percent of the nation’s population are fully compliant with federal income taxes, he said. Ten percent are not fully compliant for a variety of reasons, but are not opposed to the taxation system. Five percent of the nation’s population refuse to pay taxes because they are constitutionally opposed to the taxation system, he said, but he was not aware of people refusing to pay taxes because of opposition to military spending. He made no differentiation between anarchists, libertarians, or others simply trying to avoid paying and those resisting due to pacifist beliefs.