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War Tax Resisters Opt Out

by GREG MOSES

For three weeks beginning October 14, say sources at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the assault on Falluja was pure PSYOPS, a mere announcement of assault, designed to provoke “the opposition” into premature response. The lie worked pretty well. “The opposition” abandoned their so-called safe havens and ” melted into the night.” For this reason, many residents of the city expected the PSYOPS theater to let out early, too.

One hapless doctor, Hakim Mirzoev, says he expected the Americans to surround the city, fire a few shots, and declare victory. He didn’t realize that a greater PSYOPS scheme was in the making, a plan to flatten Falluja under boot and mortar so that the City of Mosques could be rebuilt by Christian Soldiers into a Model City–a Pasadena by the Euphrates. With this world-historical Crusade in mind, Falluja was crushed, thousands were killed and wounded, hundreds of thousands displaced, so that America could perceive itself great in the gaze of the world.

So who made Falluja possible? Who enabled budgets to be filled with imperial plans? American taxpayers did. The moral tracer on this funding leads to me and you, the co-investors who backed this pre-holiday discount on the lives of Fallujans, thousands of lives, forever lost and unlived. To pay for this moral bankruptcy, we got up in the morning, worked all day, and sent money to the war machine. Ask not who bankrolled Falluja.

****

Texas school teacher Shirley Smith made the connection between her tax dollars and the war in Iraq during the first week of the invasion. It was March 27, 2003, and she was listening to Bitta Mostofi speak at the University of Texas campus at Austin. Mostofi had been to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, serving witness to sufferings caused by USA-supported sanctions.

It was right after the invasion and only a few weeks before the tax deadline, recalls Smith. Mostofi said it would be an effective protest against the war if everyone refused to pay taxes. And that’s when the light went on. Right away, Smith submitted a new W-4 form, so that no taxes would be withheld. No more money would go from her to the war. On April 15, 2003, Smith joined an annual protest at the downtown Austin post office. Camera crews captured her image as she helped to pass out leaflets. The next day a couple of colleagues spoke to her about seeing pictures on the local news. One colleague got excited.

“She told me she would like to stop paying her taxes, too,” recalls Smith. “So I explained to her that we re-direct our tax money into groups that work for peace. And then she wasn’t quite as interested. I think it’s important to stress that we’re not in this for personal gain.” Like many war tax resisters, Smith sends her tax money to an escrow fund, where interest gets applied to peace work.

When tax day rolled around this year, Smith enclosed a letter with her tax form, explaining why she would not send money. In August she received her first reply from the Internal Revenue Service. On November 16, she received her third. It arrived by certified mail, warning Smith that the IRS would begin looking for property or other assets to attach.

IRS Public Affairs officer Ken Vargas of the Austin office explains that the collections office sends out “soft notices” first, followed by “harder notices” later. Vargas says the IRS doesn’t keep a handy record of war tax resisters, and he insists that “normal collection procedures” apply to all subjects, regardless of whether they write letters stating their war tax resistance.

In fact, the tax reform act of 1998 makes it illegal for the IRS to designate tax protesters as a special class. A June 2004 audit by the Treasury Inspector General reported “233 isolated instances” where subjects had been identified as tax protesters nevertheless. The only time the IRS can justify this practice, warned the IG, is when case notes reflect what subjects say about themselves. The IRS office most likely to abuse its classification of tax resisters was the office of Chief Counsel.

Andy McKenna, who began his war tax resistance after the First Gulf War, says that the three letters sent to Smith this year may serve as one example of more aggressive collections. In a press release, prepared for distribution this week, McKenna joined with other war tax resisters to warn of increased enforcement in the Austin area. At a mid-November meeting of the Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (ACOMT), members shared their impressions that a long season of relative neglect by the IRS is now being followed by a spate of collection activities. In mid-October, McKenna himself was hit up for his first wage garnishment, which left him only $330.00 per paycheck, twice a month.

Anecdotal evidence from Texas does not yet support a finding that there is a nationwide crackdown on war tax resisters. From a few dozen emails sent to war tax resisters elsewhere, only Mary Loehr, former national coordinator for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), responded with news of fresh garnishment attempts in Ithaca, Albuquerque, and Chicago. Co-director of Peace and Justice Studies at Wellesley College, Larry Rosenwald, says that computer technology has helped to speed up the IRS over the past five years, “increasing ability to locate wtrs [war tax resisters] and their bank accounts by way of computerized records.” Ruth Benn, current coordinator for NWTRCC, reports in the group’s latest newsletter that, “It is still not clear if there is more actual collection nationally.”

Back in Austin, Susan Van Haitsma, a war tax resister since 1985, feels that her fellow ACOMT members have good reasons to report their experiences, even if no broader trend emerges. “The fact that several in our local group are experiencing collection efforts at the same time is probably just a coincidence,” writes Van Haitsma via email, “and the reason we are seeking to publicize it is just that, in the midst of war, it’s a concrete example of resistance that is of more interest to the general public (it seems) when we are actually engaged in the legal push and pull of collections.”

****

Which brings us back to Falluja and the claim made by Bitta Mostofi that massive tax resistance would work. Anyone interested in cutting ties to this war can stop paying taxes. Yet, as Kathy Kelly noted in a recent essay, a great deterrent to war tax resistance, besides irrational fear of the IRS, is fear of family reactions, especially from spouses. Significantly, neither McKenna, Smith, nor Van Haitsma is married.

Smith says that her daughter was immediately afraid that mom was going to prison. But prison is not a likely outcome, says Smith, as long as war tax resisters remain honest about where their money is. Smith’s father is retired from military service. When she told him about her conversion to war tax resistance, he joked that she didn’t want to pay for his retirement. And that was the worst thing he’s ever said about her decision. Supportive is the word Smith uses to describe her parents.

War tax resistance affects people in different ways. Van Haitsma lives a lifestyle at poverty level, taking care to earn too little to tax. McKenna is starting a new job, different from the one where he was garnished. Smith, the school teacher, on the other hand, is adamant about her work commitment.

“I feel like teaching is a calling,” says Smith. Conscience demands that she keep teaching, even if the IRS garnishes her wages. Smith teaches English as a Second Language and she works with middle school students who are making good grades but who have no family history of college. The program is called AVID or Achievement Via Individual Determination. Smith spends her days helping students to fight voices that would discourage rising classes. She is always volunteering for after-hours events. And the district wants to pay her more money. She pleads, no, don’t pay me any more money!

Speaking via cell phone, school teacher Smith lists all the charities where she sends money, to keep her taxable income down. Then she asks a final question before saying goodbye: “Have you heard the quote by Alexander Haig? ‘Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes’?”

****

Keep buying, and keep buying in. Soon after Sept. 11, Forbes magazine urged Bush to get the American people back into the shopping malls. Soon enough, ” shopping” was included in the president’s short list of things that count for daily life in America. Now that Falluja has been rubbleized and stained in blood, freedom loving people everywhere will be sick with curiosity: are the plans long ready, Mr. Bush, to build a Falluja-Euphrates Mall?

The Falluja assault is an egregious blunder, even by the awful standards set by President Bush. Until Falluja, there was a tattered moral argument that Bush’s illegal invasion had at least toppled a bad guy from power. But Falluja is a campaign of, by, and for the sheer effect of terror. As a demoralized peace movement looks to Falluja with dread, Kathy Kelly reminds us, there is one thing that any taxpayer of conscience can do.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net

 

 

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Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

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