Peacemakers Reclaim Seized Home from I.R.S.

I just recently learned that the newsletters of the Syracuse Peace Council are available on-line. This makes for an interesting historical walk-through of the concerns of the anti-war movements.

There are interesting bits of war tax resistance history to be found there. For instance, one newsletter from contains this article about the IRS seizure of Ernest and Marion Bromley’s home :

Peacemakers Resist IRS Attack

Probably the most dramatic and blatant attack by the Internal Revenue Service on an antiwar group is before us in the Peacemaker Movement case… The basic facts are:

  1. In , IRS initiated an audit of the records of the Peacemaker Movement — a nation-wide community formed in 1948 and dedicated to radical nonviolent social change and simple living. IRS claimed that $24,671.31 is owed them by this non-profit organization. Initially, the claim was based on IRS’ listing the recipients of the Sharing Fund (those families receiving assistance from the Peacemaker while the wage earned is imprisoned for draft refusal and other similar acts of war resistance) as employees of the Peacemaker. When national protest forced IRS to drop this outlandish charge, they changed the figures slightly, and issued a revised assessment for approximately the same amount.
  2. In an attempt to collect the taxes owed by the Peacemaker Movement on their non-taxable income, on , IRS seized the home of Marion and Ernest Bromley in Gano, Ohio. The Bromleys are long-time pacifists and Peacemaker activists. Their home is owned by a non-profit corporation, Gano Peacemakers. No financial or formal ties have ever existed between Gano Peacemakers Inc. and the Peacemaker Movement.
  3. The audit of the Peacemaker accounts and the initial levy against Gano Peacemakers Inc. occurred while the Special Services Staff of the IRS was operating. The SSS was charged with conducting surveillance on thousands of radicals and anti-war activists. This has been documented by the US Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. There is conclusive evidence that Ernest Bromley was among those singled out by the SSS. The Sucommittee’s report “Political Intelligence in the IRS” (, p. 222) contains a substantiating memorandum. While Ernest’s name and the name Peacemaker Movement have been blanked out, there can be no mistaking whom is being targeted. The memo’s description of the group is taken verbatim from the masthead of The Peacemaker, the Movement’s newsletter.

IRS Auctions Bromley Home

Despite months of continuous picketing and leafletting in an attempt to force IRS to back off, the Bromleys’ home was sold on in a sealed-bid auction at the Federal Building in Cincinnati. The creative action of the Peacemakers and their supporters on that occasion spoke of the togetherness of the group and the absurdity of the situation. The day began with a silent vigil initiated by the local Quaker group. While the bids were being read inside the building, guerrilla theatre took place out on the sidewalk. At one point the Federal building was auctioned (offers ranging from 25¢ to 2 bottle caps). Several supporters present at the proceedings inside made brief statements about the unjust nature of the whole ordeal. Waldo the Clown was also there, face painted sadly, opening envelopes along with the IRS person. As the official read the bids and the names of the bidders, Waldo searched his envelopes and revealed their contents: a flower, a unicorn, some toilet paper, which he handed to different office people. Marion Bromley also spoke as the bids were opened, reiterating that the seizure was based on fraudulent assumptions, and that therefore the property could not be rightfully sold. A young child, belonging to one of the bidders sat under a desk, crying loudly during the event. The winning bid was $25,100, ironically close to the amount assessed.

Nat’l Call for Direct Action
Washington, DC

What now? The Peacemakers have called a demonstration of nonviolent direct action at the national headquarters of IRS to demand the following:

  1. an end to the IRS attack against Peacemakers;
  2. a return of the Bromley House;
  3. an end to all political harassment by the IRS;
  4. publication of the secret SSS “enemies list”;
  5. access for all groups and individuals to all IRS files relating to them;
  6. an end to war taxes.

The stakes are high. They are: the house which has been the home of the Bromley family and others for 25 years; the very existence of the Peacemaker Movement and the Sharing Fund will be jeopardized if the false claim on which the IRS based its attack is not exposed and withdrawn; the freedom and future of all who dissent will be seriously threatened if IRS is allowed to make fraudulent claims and proceed against those who oppose government policies; the danger is particularly great for those people and groups who also oppose militarism and work for peace; concern is not only for the Peacemakers, but for us all.

You may be skeptical that peaceniks practicing guerrilla theater on the sidewalk and clowns fishing unicorns out of envelopes would get very far with their list of demands, but here’s the news from the next issue:

Peacemakers Win!
IRS Returns Bromleys’ Home

— We’re in a no win position. So we want to do what’s right. — That’s how IRS Commissioner Donald Alexander broke the news that IRS was wrong: the assessment against the Peacemakers was an error, and the sale of the Bromleys’ home would be reversed. The Peacemakers were informed of this late , just three days before the planned (and well publicized) Washington demonstration (and just after some of them had spent all day with mops and brooms cleaning up IRS).

IRS’s recanting came after months of persistent, day-in, day-out work by many people, but especially by the small Peacemaker collective that had moved into Washington to fight the case.

The non-bureaucratic response

The Peacemakers were resolute that their confrontation with the government would be on their terms. Believing that the legal system is an instrument of oppression and exists to protect the state and the property of the powerful, they refused to take their case into the courts. Instead they worked to make the truth known through personal meetings with IRS officials, through continuous leafletting, through appealing to their supporters country-wide to demand justice. They insisted on their right to retrieve their secret files from IRS (refusing to cite the Freedom of Information Act), they dissected the data and fought back with [it]. They put enormous energy into building relationships with IRS officials that would allow for honest dialogue. And always, they challenged and responded to the bureaucracy in a highly personal manner.

Initially it appeared that IRS’ reversal had been an act of faith in the Peacemakers; that it had been touched by the group’s philosophy of truth and their consistent methods. It wasn’t that complete a victory. The Commissioner had been sufficiently impressed by these people to where he called for a special investigation — which verified the Peacemakers’ statement.

Join us for lunch

The dropping of charges didn’t affect the call of the demonstration. There were still the issues of political intelligence and harassment, the enemies list and the secret files, and of course war taxes. The returning of the Bromley home did remove the urgency so that civil disobedience seemed no longer appropriate. Instead the dimension of celebration was added. For , the thousands of employees at IRS were leafletted with the good news and an invitation to join us to celebrate at lunch — in the courtyard inside the IRS building.

But government agencies can’t or won’t trust. That day there were armed guards at the one entrance left open after the early morning arrival of the workers. Promptly at noon, we went to the door, bearing our bread and fruit, and once again extended our invitation to everyone from Alexander on down to meet us in the courtyard. Alexander refused the invitation and we were refused entry, so we contented ourselves with the front steps. We shared a brief silence, then enjoyed our food to the accompaniment of our country band of fiddles, guitars and a washtub. There was much gaiety with singing and dancing, there in front of the guarded portals engraved with “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society”.

8,000 enemies

Later, two of the Commissioner’s top aides met with us out on the lawn. Typical dialogue: What about the secret files? They will be destroyed as soon as Congress has finished all its investigations of IRS. If you think you are on the enemies list, write us and ask for your file. Why won’t you notify the 11,000 enemies of their select state? That would create paranoia. Paranoia? The government’s collecting intelligence data on 8,000 people and 3,000 organizations for political purposes was a very real activity. If the secret files are no longer active, why are copies on file in the district offices throughout the country? To recall them would focus attention on their contents and perhaps have the reverse effect. (In truth, the damage to people is irreparable until all IRS records are destroyed. For example, a common audit sheet on Ernest Bromley has a margin note — “house filled with hippies”.) How does it feel to collect moneys for death? We can’t all grow gardens in Ohio.

That evening, after nine hours of picketing, singing and leafletting, we evaluated the action. The same old problems were identified: we honestly had been at a loss to relate to the many IRS employees who had taken their lunch hour on the steps with us in the warm sunshine (other than offering them our apples and leaflets). And in the afternoon discussion, had we not put too much emphasis on “cleaning up” IRS, ignoring the basic issue of its very legitimacy?

The Peacemakers have won an important victory, not only for themselves as a community, and for Ernest and Marion Bromley, but for all of us who must dissent.

 — Chris Murray