|I fought the law
and the law won
Tax protester (less commonly, tax protestor) is a general category to describe anyone who does not pay taxes, either because they refuse to or do not believe they have to do so. The most commonly disputed tax (in the United States) is the income tax. In the US, tax protesters tend to be
fucking morons who think that the government runs on Jesus largely middle-class conservatives with a libertarian bent.
The term "tax protester," while the preferred nomenclature, is somewhat misleading. In more common parlance, they might be called tax deniers — and in practice tax evaders. Individuals who protest taxes for one reason or another, while not denying the legal government's right to tax (although they may deny it morally), are called tax resisters. Individuals who don't like the idea of taxes, but buckle down and pay them anyway, are called normal people.
Anti-war protesters throughout American history, from Henry David Thoreau to Emma Goldman to Noam Chomsky, at various times have refused to pay any taxes, under the threat of acknowledged laws, because they opposed America acting like assholes in other parts of the world. The big difference between these types of anti-war tax protests and the goons profiled below is the level of intellectual argument. When Thoreau refused to pay taxes because America was basically murdering brown people for shits and giggles, he welcomed the Taxman and turned his trial into a showcase for his anti-war views, like John Brown did during his trial for the Harper's Ferry Raid, making a common courtroom into a platform for abolishing slavery. By contrast, these people have no such ethical position, and are usually a bit more obsessed with guns and Obama's birth certificate than is really necessary. In other words, their objections are pseudolegal rather than moral in nature.
Tax protesters use pseudolaw and follow many of the same methods as creationists and other denialists in advocating their ideas, including: cherry picking data, pseudohistory, quote mining, and deception. Not a single argument ever presented by a tax protester has ever been accepted by a court of law as valid.
There are interesting links between tax protesting and creationist movements, as well as the birthers, militia movement and some white supremacy groups. In November 2006 Kent Hovind, an infamous peddler of creationism, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for not paying income tax. Hovind was relying on schemes pushed by "tax advisor" Glenn Stoll. Many people have made a lot of money selling various schemes for avoiding having to pay taxes. Thousands of videos, books, and conferences are offered every year that promise to cure you of a tax burden for a price. One example is that of Irwin Schiff and his site paynoincometax.com. Schiff was convicted of various tax-related offenses in 2005.
Tax protesters should be distinguished from tax resisters, who do not deny the government's right to levy taxes, but refuse to pay as a matter of principle, due to their opposition to specific government policies (opposition to public schooling or defense spending are common tropes). Of course, both groups are very likely to end up in prison. Such protesters are rather less likely to espouse right-libertarian politics; some are, indeed, extreme liberals, pacifists, or left-wing anarchists.[note 2] Tax resistance is a form of civil disobedience, at least when such people are willing to go to jail for the principle. One example of a tax resister is Thoreau, who coined the above term in his book Civil Disobedience and refused to pay his poll tax because it supported the Mexican War, which he considered an immoral land grab that he feared would expand slavery into new territories. In his book, Thoreau stated his view that "an unjust law is no law at all" and that when law was unjust, "the place for a just man is in prison." He inspired Tolstoy and Gandhi, who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. in turn.
The claims of these groups will appear in italics, refutations in regular text.[note 3]
- That the 16th Amendment was not ratified because Ohio wasn't a state, and thus didn't get the requisite number of states to approve of it.
- This argument relies on a false technicality that Congress forgot to pass a resolution declaring Ohio a state in 1803 and that Ohio only became a state in 1953. If this were true, then why did Ohioans have Senators and Congressmen? Also, it would not have mattered since 41 other states ratified it anyway with the minimum being 36.
- Even if the 16th Amendment hadn't been ratified, Federal income taxes had existed — and been ruled Constitutional by the courts — since the Civil War. The 16th Amendment was proposed because the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Pollock v. Farmer's Loan and Trust (1894) made it extremely messy to pass income tax laws where property was involved.
- It violates the 13th Amendment's prohibition of "involuntary servitude."
- "Involuntary servitude" is actually a euphemism for slavery. Needless to say the equivalence between sending a portion of your income to fund the government and being the legal property of another person is not recognized by the courts. And even if paying taxes were involuntary servitude, this passage would be superseded by the 16th Amendment. Simply put, a Constitutional amendment cannot violate the Constitution, as it supersedes the original Constitution and any prior amendments.
- Variants on claims like there is no law for an income tax or that the Internal Revenue Code does not actually say "income".
- There are in fact several laws saying what is and is not taxable (26 U.S.C. Sections 1, 61, 63, 6012(a), 6072, and 6151, among others, for anyone interested).
- Variations on the theme that America's Founding Fathers did not believe that governments had taxation powers.
- Not true. The issue at stake was the Crown's ability to levy taxes on American colonies with no representation in that government, not, say, Richmond's ability to tax Virginians. The federal government's ability to tax was specifically defended in The Federalist Papers.
- Indeed, one of Congress's very first acts under the Constitution was to pass a tax on whiskey. When the Whiskey Rebellion broke out as a result, George Washington himself called for the militia to put down the rebellion and enforce the tax.
- Whether or not the Founding Fathers would have approved of an income tax is legally irrelevant. The Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution a process to amend the Constitution, and the Constitution was legally amended (with the 16th Amendment) to allow for an income tax. Citing the Founding Fathers' opinions might be a compelling political argument for changing the law, but, in this case, it has no bearing on what the law actually is.
- Filing an income tax return is voluntary.
- This stems from the misreading of a case (Flora v. United States, 362 U.S. 145) where somebody did not file his 1040, but then demanded his full refund. Voluntary in this case actually means that the person has to go and calculate it him or herself, otherwise, no refund, or massive audit.
- Paying income taxes is voluntary.
- Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly imposes a requirement to pay federal income tax. This was addressed most recently in 2007 in United States v. Schulz, (529 F.Supp.2d 341) where the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York enjoined Robert Schulz from selling a scheme based on the premise that withholding tax was voluntary. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the injunction (517 F.3d 606), and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case (555 U.S. 946).
- Wages are not taxable because they are an equal exchange for the value of labor provided. Typically this claim is made by filing a "zero return", showing no income, and a "corrected" Form W-2, where the wages paid by the taxpayer's employer are reduced to $0.
- Courts have rejected this argument (see Sisemore v. United States, 6th Cir., 797 F.2d 268, 270-71 (1986)), as well as attempts by taxpayers to offset wages by taking an equal deduction as a "cost of labor" (Olson v. United States, 9th Cir., 760 F.2d 1003, 1005 (1985)).
- Taxation is theft
- A complaint becoming common in libertarian circles, with the linked suggestion that it should be replaced by "voluntary donations". Note that there are still large numbers of people who tend not to donate anything to society to a degree that allows modern society to function, especially if the government did not use force to take it. Additionally, the rich donate even less of a portion of their income as they get richer.
- Complaints about taxation being theft should also be paired with complaints about using stuff that hasn't been paid for. Basic roads being the simplest of devices, which facilitate transport but cannot be maintained unless a toll or tax is collected.
- According to the National Post, Ontario, Canada has seen such a deluge of tax protesting cases that judges are overwhelmed.
“”The National Post has identified 385 pending tax cases — most using florid and arcane language and claiming bizarre laws that supersede or nullify Canada's regulations and laws; it prompted the Tax Court to adopt a triage approach to cope with the deluge, grouping cases and directing them to specific judges.
None of these cases have succeeded, but that hasn't stopped more from being filed.
- Gordon Kahl was a tax protester associated with the Posse Comitatus movement who died in a 1983 shootout with Arkansas police. Law enforcement had attempted to arrest him outside of his hometown of Medina, North Dakota but he (or two others with him) shot two U.S. marshals and he fled in a stolen Medina police car to Arkansas, where he died four months later in another shootout with law enforcement. Kahl had failed to pay income taxes for several years and had previously (1977) spent eight months in prison on tax evasion charges; the attempted 1983 arrest was for violation of his parole by continuing to fail to file his federal taxes. The exact order of events during the Medina shootout is hotly disputed with Medina's local police officers offering a different version than federal marshals, and Medina police and federal marshals each blaming the other for botching the arrest.
- Aaron Russo (d. 27 August 2007), an "independent" filmmaker who owed taxes in three states, and had been the Libertarian Party candidate for President, released a documentary called America: Freedom to Fascism,[note 4] which has become a rallying cry for many tax protesters. Russo unquestioningly regurgitated all of the classic arguments, misconceptions, and lies.
- In 2007 a major standoff occurred in the town of Plainfield, New Hampshire, between convicted tax evaders Ed and Elaine Brown and the federal government. The Browns sealed themselves up in their fortified compound of a home and promised the "next Waco" if the government tried to arrest them. Tax protesters and other anti-government cranks, including Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame, flocked to the Browns' residence to bring guns and supplies. The Browns were taken into custody without incident on 4 October 2007 by US Marshals posing as supporters.
- Formerly-successful businessman, WND shareholder and increasingly gibbering crank Robert Beale had his head turned by the works of Irwin Schiff and concocted elaborate schemes to just… stop paying income tax. This didn't work for him, either, even after his followers tried to scare the judge off the case.
- Self-proclaimed psychic Sean David Morton filed various false tax returns over the years, claiming that he did not have to obey the law because he "is not a 14th Amendment citizen." The government did not agree, and neither did the jury in Federal Court, Los Angeles. On 7 April 2017 Morton and his wife Melissa were found guilty on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of filing false claims against the United States, and various counts of passing false or fictitious financial instruments. Morton did not appear for his 19 June 2017 sentencing, and was a fugitive until re-arrested, along with his wife Melissa, on 21 August. One might have thought that a psychic could have seen all this coming.
- Conspiracy theorist William Cooper chose the inevitable death rather than the inevitable taxes. After he was charged with tax evasion he "vowed that he would not be taken alive" and got his wish.
Exceptions to the rule
Tax protesters are occasionally acquitted; for example, the June 2007 not guilty verdict against Louisiana attorney Tommy Cryer, which became something of a rallying point for the movement. Cryer did not attempt to argue there is no law making him liable for income tax. Instead, he used what has come to be known as the "cheek defense" (from Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192), essentially claiming that he did not know that he had to file and could not have willfully failed to file. The opinion of tax experts is that Cryer was acquitted based on an incompetent prosecution that failed to demonstrate that Cryer was aware of the need to file. Civilly, Cryer was still found to be liable for back taxes, fees, and interest and is currently raising money to pay off his taxes.
A similar case, U.S. v. Lloyd R. Long (U.S.D.C. E.D. Tenn. 10/15/1993), ended the same way, with the jury deciding that Mr. Long's failure to file tax returns wasn't willful. Like Cryer, he still had to cough up back taxes, interest, and tax penalties.
All acquittals have come from jury trials for criminal conduct. These acquittals range from Cheek defenses like Cryer to jury nullification in cases where it seems defendants have convinced a few jury members of their arguments. The important point is that "not guilty" verdicts by juries do not have anything to do with the status of the law nor are they precedent setting. No matter of law has ever been decided in favor of a tax protester and even with an acquittal for criminal conduct the civil liability of taxes has always been met. Thus, even acquittals cannot be said to be victories for the Tax Protester movement, since an acquittal does not get them out of paying their taxes. The best result a tax protester can hope for is to be no worse off than if he'd payed his damn taxes to begin with.
Prohibition on use of term "tax protestor"
In the spirit of the Indiana Pi Bill, the U.S. Congress has prohibited the IRS from calling individuals as "tax protestors." The Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, Section 3707 was supposed to prevent the IRS from using the designation tax protestor in taxpayers' case narratives. Congress felt that calling tax protestors "tax protestors" would bias IRS employees in future contacts with these individuals. Euphemisms like "constitutionally challenged" were also prohibited. However, as of 2010, IRS employees were still using those terms, despite attempts to prevent this by altering software used to maintain the files.
Occasionally, tax protesters will have a legitimate point. In the 1860s, suffragette Sarah Wall of Massachusetts cited the founding principle of "No Taxation Without Representation" and refused to pay her taxes unless women were given the right to vote. The case went all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which ordered Wall to pay taxes anyway. When she still refused, authorities seized and sold her property to pay for the unpaid taxes. More recently, similar arguments have been made by residents of the District of Columbia, which is the only part of the United States where residents are required to pay federal income tax on all income but has no voting representation in Congress,[note 5] though there is no record of anyone outright refusing to pay taxes. However, the slogan "No Taxation Without Representation" has become a rallying cry for the D.C. Statehood movement and even appears on license plates issued by the District. These cases are very different from the conventional tax protester arguments in that the point of the protest is the lack of representation in the legislative body that sets tax rates, not the requirement to pay taxes in and of itself.
The attempt by Margaret Thatcher to tax everyone equally for local services, without regard to income, wealth or consumption, was resisted by campaigns of tax refusal from both left- and right-wing parts of society. This form of taxation was officially known as the "Community Charge," but was widely referred to as the "Poll Tax". (Named after the tax that led to the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, "Poll" was an archaic term for "Head".) Attempts to collect arrears using bailiffs were often met with physical resistance, and several, often elderly, protesters went to jail for their refusal to pay the tax. Ultimately, a major riot in London's Trafalgar Square over the issue, and Thatcher's refusal to change her mind, were among the reasons that led to her own party removing her from office.
The Poll Tax was not a replacement for income tax: it was a tax used to fund services at a local level, and has been replaced by the current Council Tax based on the value of one's home. This is also quite unpopular[note 6] as the valuation bands are rarely updated, the Valuation Office Agency frequently incorrectly classifies property values, it takes no account of the difference between renting and owning, and punishments range from draconian to absurd. But it's nowhere near as unpopular as the Poll Tax.
However, the cases in this section are more similar to tax resisters than tax protesters as that term is used elsewhere in the article.
British tax protesters in 2010
An entirely different type of "tax protester" movement began in the UK in 2010 under the name 'UK Uncut'. In this case the protest was about organisations (specifically large companies like the mobile phone network Vodafone or the retail chain Arcadia Group) not paying enough (or evading/avoiding) taxes and the object of the movement was to find ways to make them pay. Again, this more aligns with tax resisting.
- Common law
- Freeman on the land
- Tax haven
- Tea Party movement: Greedy government, using our hard-earned gas money on roads and infrastructure.
- Tom Cryer
- The IRS response to the most common arguments Quatloos, which has forums tracking high-profile tax protesters
- The Tax Protester FAQ, considered the definitive online reference (outside the US income tax law of course) on legal arguments used by US tax protesters
- Tax Protester Dossiers: Gurus and Other Big Fish
- Part of the 1792 political cartoon by James Gillray, titled "French Liberty, British Slavery"
- The last of which does deny the government's right to levy taxes, but tends to emphasize other issues such as anti-capitalism. Since they want to redistribute wealth, only without the government's help, and many want to abolish money entirely, they tend to regard tax resistance/tax protest as of minor and symbolic importance at best.
- See the Wikipedia article on tax protester arguments. to learn more about this bullshit.
- The video can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.
- Residents of other territories such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands do not pay income tax to the federal government, though they do pay an equivalent tax to their territory.
- Unless you're a grubby student and don't have to pay it.
- French Liberty and British Slavery by James Gillray (1792) National Gallery of Art.
- "The State of the Union", Esquire (May 1975)
- Kent Hovind, ‘Dr. Dino,’ guilty on all counts (retrieved February 2009)
- USDOJ on Schiff
- Noam Scheiber and Patricia Cohen, "For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions", The New York Times 12.29.15.
- See It's All About Power by Darrell Graf and Steve Schnabel (ISBN 0-942323-31-9) for the Medina police version
- Union leader article on the Browns
- "Hermosa Beach couple convicted in federal tax fraud case," Daily Breeze (Torrance, Calif.) April 7, 2017
- Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) Report: Fiscal Year 2010 Statutory Audit of Compliance With Legal Guidelines Prohibiting the Use of Illegal Tax Protester and Similar Designations (Reference Number: 2010-30-073).
- British tax protesters being monitored by police - the Guardian