The Agape Community in Massachusetts, Founded by War Tax Resisters

The National Catholic Reporter’s cover story is about the Agape community in Massachusetts:

Agape was founded in when Brayton and Suzanne Shanley and a few friends decided they needed to live their Catholicism according to the uncompromising dictates they understood from the Gospels.

“We had a strong conviction that we didn’t want to go the mainstream American way. We had a deepening understanding that we had to be voluntarily displaced, you need to live differently to really follow Christ,” recalled Suzanne Shanley, former teacher and now a hearty woman in her early 60s with a wise bearing. “I didn’t know how that would become concrete until I started studying my Catholicism through Daniel Berrigan,” she said, referring to the Jesuit priest, poet and longtime antiwar activist. “What did it mean to be a Catholic teacher, to be a Catholic person? It was a series of movements and revelations about what my faith really is. It was reading scripture in a true and unvarnished way to find my faith.”

The Shanleys and cofounder McCarthy believed Christ preached an end to war. But being American taxpayers made them complicit in the military actions of the United States, their dollars paid for contra weapons in Central America and for the nuclear arms race that was imperiling the planet. So they decided to stop paying taxes.

Some tax resisters refuse to pay the government what they owe and instead redirect the same amount of earnings to nonmilitary causes they support. The nascent Agape community instead decided to live below the taxable income, currently a household income of about $20,000 a year.

“We were reducing our lifestyle. If you are going to live under taxable income, well, food is very expensive,” Suzanne Shanley said with a laugh. So they looked for land where they could grow their own food.

The search led them to Hardwick, a tiny central Massachusetts village in the Worchester diocese, just up the road from Ware, a faded mill town. On 32 acres of land they set up camp, planted vegetables, built a hermitage and began offering hospitality to anyone who wanted to join in their study of nonviolence.

Accompanying the interesting article is a sidebar on tax resistance that was lazily cribbed from Wikipedia. (Whatever; I’ve put a lot of work into that Wikipedia page in part so that reporters will be more likely to treat the subject intelligently, so I shouldn’t complain.)

In New York City’s Indypendent, Eric Volpe explains “Why I’m a War Tax Resister”:

Although I first started considering tax resistance in , I didn’t take any immediate action. I’m basically a law-abiding person who doesn’t want a lot of headaches — and tax resistance sounded like a major headache. But I also kept reading about the war. Finally, in , instead of sending a check to the IRS, I sent a note explaining that I cannot send them money knowing what the money would be used for.

I send the amounts I owe to groups involved in more constructive pursuits. I have found that most war tax resisters that I have spoken with do the same, as they do not object to paying taxes as their share of the expenses in running society — it is paying for war we object to. Thus it’s not that we’re not paying taxes — what we are doing is diverting our taxes.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that my resistance is pretty token. Most of the taxes I “owe” are paid through withholding. I just refuse to send the balance (about $100–$200/year). But, token or not, being a war tax resister is stressful. I get letters on a fairly regular basis from the IRS demanding payment, which really takes the fun out of checking my mail.

When I started this I figured the IRS would levy the amount they said I “owed,” including penalties and interest, out of my bank account; this is what happened to other resisters I had consulted on this matter. So far, after , this hasn’t happened yet, which means that small amount of money hasn’t gone toward buying more bombs and bullets.

Someone asked me recently whether American tax resisters ever got hassled by border officials when leaving or coming back into the country. I told him that until recently I hadn’t heard of anything like this, and that as far as I knew the border folks typically only check for criminal matters, not things like tax liens and levies and such which are much more typical for the conscientious tax resister set.

The “until recently” bit was because of this article that showed up in the Canadian press earlier this month. Apparently, the IRS is feeding its data to Homeland Security, which “may bar the traveller’s entry into the United States” if the traveller has “unpaid U.S. tax liabilities.”

The article concerns people with dual citizenship, or people without U.S. citizenship who nonetheless have tax liabilities or unmet tax filing requirements in the United States (in other words, not U.S. citizen residents).

NWTRCC is throwing another video contest. They’re offering $600 in prizes to the winning producers of short (under five minutes) films on war tax resistance.