By Josh Brokaw
Refusing to pay taxes is one form of nonviolent resistance that has a long history in the annals of American dissent.
War tax resistance dates back to Quaker and Mennonite opposition to the French and Indian War in 1755, according to an article by Ed Hedemann in the War Resisters League Organizers Manual. Henry David Thoreau was jailed for non-payment of taxes during the Mexican War, during which time he wrote his essay on civil disobedience. The advent of employee tax withholding in 1943, along with the establishment of a more permanent national military bureaucracy after World War II, resulted in a year-in, year-out tax resistance of the warfare state that has lasted to the present day.
A group of Ithacans joined in that history of dissent on Tuesday, April 18: 2017’s tax filing deadline.
Some of them have been withholding and re-directing their taxes for decades, like Mary Loehr, who says she started resisting war through non-payment of taxes about 35 years ago.
“I was friends of the Gradys and their mom [Teresa] told me about it,” Loehr said. “It seemed like a good idea, so I started doing it.”
“Laurie and I have done this on and off since Bush was in office,” Saddler said. “It started out with the war on Iraq. We were against the militarism before that, but that was just the last straw. With the Trumpocalypse and everything he’s doing, it’s the military and it’s everything else too. Plus the irony he won’t release his taxes. It’s a way to send a message we’re not accepting this and encourage other people to send the same message. And do everything nonviolent we can to start and turn things around.”
Loehr said that over the years she has been in many categories of tax resistance – she has made under the taxable limit, been non-filing, and filed her taxes, then withheld them, which is what she did this year.
“I always give the money away I owe to groups working for life-affirming things,” Loehr said. Half of the money gathered by her group of about eight Ithacans affiliated with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee went to Ultimate Reentry Opportunity; the group is still firming up a donation of the other half to another radical project in the region.
The administration of President Donald Trump has given new reason for tax resistance to some. Wylie Goodman, a Cornell graduate student, started taxstrike100.com in the last month to garner resistance to Trump’s agenda and bring pressure on him to release his tax returns.
“I knew one of the organizers of the Women’s March, and it was really inspiring to me that she had made this happen from out of nowhere,” Goodman said. “Even after all that, clearly the administration pretty much ignored everything that happened with marches around the world. It seemed really quite clear they were not going to be responsive to any sort of normal display of civil disobedience.”
Goodman and a friend came up with the idea to ask people to withhold $100 for 100 days as a sign of resistance, relating the idea to “the emphasis placed on Trump’s first 100 days.”
“I felt like myself, I was scared of consequences, and also felt like a small minority of people have the courage and will to not pay taxes at all or really withhold forever some portion of war taxes,” Goodman said. “If people are even going to contemplate doing this, how could we encourage people to not be scared they’ll lose their home or be arrested? If enough people send the same message on or around the same time, that could get some press essentially or spark a conversation the marches weren’t doing.”
Since starting taxstrike100.com, Goodman said she has learned much about the history of tax resistance.
“I was aware of the Catholic Workers movement, but not them doing war tax resistance,” Goodman said. “It wasn’t something I thought was really still going on – any inkling I had was it happened during the ’60s and the Vietnam war.”
Goodman is now one in favor of the “peace tax,” an idea that people who conscientiously object to war can pay their taxes into another fund that can’t be used for war.
Consequences for tax resisters vary, as so often do consequences from the Internal Revenue Service.
Taxstrike100.com recommends that people show the correct tax due, and send a letter stating they are withholding monies in resistance. Federal law includes a penalty of up to $5,000 for “frivolous” returns in which the filer takes a war tax deduction or otherwise shows a reduced tax due; if the tax is shown correctly, but not paid, the penalty does not apply.
Saddler said he and Konwinski have had tax returns from New York state intercepted, or the IRS has taken fines and fees out of their bank account.
Loehr said she has never been garnished in her years as a war tax resister.
“I don’t know, exactly,” Loehr said, “but a lot has to do with non-filing. A long, long time ago, I filed with 50 percent [paid] and nothing ever happened but I got letters. Last year I became a filer again, but they didn’t take any of my money.”
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Featured photo from National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.