War Tax Resistance


The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice

War Tax Resistance

Nonpayment of war taxes, practiced by Quakers and others, disappeared as a pacifist testimony soon after the Civil War and Thoreau's famous stand against the U.S. foray in Mexico. It first reappeared in World War II when a few widely scattered individuals refused to pay federal taxes on the grounds that there was 10 way to prevent a significant part of their money from being used for military purposes. One resister, Ernest Bromley, was prosecuted and imprisoned for his refusal. Many others began to inform the Internal Revenue Service that payment violated their principles.

The enactment during World War II of a measure which required employers to withhold taxes from their employees caused particular difficulties for pacifists and led to the formation of Peacemakers in 1948. A Peacemaker committee promoted tax refusal and provided research, literature, action suggestions, and publicity for those in the tax resistance movement. Although many hundreds of people were refusing to pay income taxes urging the 15 years following 1948, the government prosecuted and imprisoned only six: James Otsuka if Indiana, Maurice McCrackin of Ohio, Eroseanna Robinson of Illinois, Walter Gormly of Iowa, Arthur Evans of Colorado, and Neil Haworth of Connecticut. These imprisonments and the seizure of a few cars and houses by the IRS, served to highlight the tax refusal testimony and establish it as a major nonviolent principle and tactic.

Tax resistance, like other forms of opposition to the military, increased dramatically during the Vietnam War. In 1966 the federal government levied an additional tax on every private telephone, and in a rare moment of candor, admitted that the money would help subsidize the war in Indochina. Peacemakers, the War Resisters League, and other nonviolent groups urged refusal of this tax and in the following years countless thousands heeded their call. Under the leadership of Bob and Angie Calvert, War Tax Resistance was formed in 1969 as a separate organization to investigate all aspects and ramifications of conscientious tax refusal. During the war there were over 200 local war tax resistance centers, as well as a number of "alternative life funds" which rechanneled refused tax money back into the local community for constructive purposes. Many of these continued after the end of the war. The tactic of claiming enough dependents so that no Income tax would be withheld became more widespread is the Vietnam War continued. Often the tax refuser would make clear the moral grounds for the protest by listing, for example, "all the Vietnamese" as dependents. Refusing to pay for war by claiming excessive exemptions brought particularly strong response from the government. A number of people were prosecuted and imprisoned: Jim Shea, Karl Meyer, William Himmelbauer, Mark Riley, Ellis Rece, Carole Nelson, John Leininger, and Martha Tranquilli (a 64 year old grandmother and nurse). The tax resistance movement continued after the war and grew to include both pacifists and non-pacifists who could no longer in conscience support the military priorities of the government.

As more and more tax money was directed toward the military buildup, many activists revived interest ill war tax resistance. Protests were organized each year, and individual resisters tried a variety of means to deny the government money for war. In April 1981, demonstrations were held in Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities and 24 people were arrested at IRS offices in New York City. The following year, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee was armed by the Center on Law and Pacifism, Conscience and Military Tax · Campaign, WRL, Peacemakers and eighty local groups. Nineteen eighty-three featured the largest show of war tax resistance actions in ten years, including Ralph Dull, an Ohio farmer and tax resister since 1951, who drove a truckload of grain to the IRS office as payment for his taxes. The IRS instituted a "friviolous returns" penalty to discourage the filing of returns with any but the requested information, and some resisters began an insurance fund, pooling their resources to pay fines and interest charges levied against fellow tax resisters.

Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski, reprinted with permission, from The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States.  Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.
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