Apr 12 - By April 15, the Internal Revenue Service estimates that 132 million
individual income tax returns will be filed and that two trillion dollars will
be collected for the US Treasury. But in protest of the federal government's military
expenditures, an estimated ten thousand people will not file their taxes or will
deliberately withhold money from the IRS this year.
Glen Milner, an electrician and father of three in Seattle, Washington, files
his taxes every year. His approach, however, is unusual. On the top of his 1040
form he writes in large print: "Some taxes withheld in protest of funds
appropriated for illegal military purposes."
"What I'm doing," says Milner, "is telling the IRS right up
front that somewhere in the form I'm withholding funds." He doesn't tell
the agency where the missing funds are, but Milner has filed his taxes in this
manner since 1985. A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and an active
proponent of US nuclear disarmament, Milner says he is putting his money "where
his mouth is." He cannot resist militarization and war and pay for it at
the same time, he says.
The government spends over half of its annual budget on past, present and future
military expenses, before even considering tens of billions in supplementary
funding allocated by Congress for ongoing wars such as those in Afghanistan
Antimilitarist tax resisters are fond of noting Principle IV of the Nuremberg
Principles, drawn up to punish some individuals who committed crimes against
humanity during the Second World War. "The fact that a person acted pursuant
to order of his Government or of a superior," the Principle reads, "does
not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral
choice was in fact possible to him." The moral choice for Milner is clear:
withhold taxes from the government, in spite of the unpredictable risks.
A key component of serious war tax resistance is redirecting withheld federal
tax dollars to humanitarian needs. The Conscience and Military Tax Campaign
Escrow Account in Seattle is one of the largest such repositories in the country.
A kind of charitable trust, interest from the account is granted on a yearly
basis to nonprofit organizations dedicated to peace and justice. The beneficiaries
have included Casa Maria Catholic Worker House in Milwaukee to help provide
temporary housing to the homeless; the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace in
Hood River, Oregon for counter-recruitment efforts; and the Palestine Solidarity
Committee in Seattle, which runs informational programs about the Israel-Palestine
The escrow account, says organizer Eddie Tews, himself a tax resister, is also
a good way for tax resisters to hide assets like cash or stocks from the IRS.
"Say you owe the IRS at the end of the year," explained Tews. "You
set it aside and put it into our account. If the IRS ever decides to collect,
the money will be available."
Tews said the account was levied once in the 1980's. "The IRS somehow
found out and we were ordered to pay -- which we didn't do."
The majority of tax resisters redirect federal income tax money independently,
choosing to donate to a wide variety of local, national and international peace
and justice organizations in critical need of financial support.
War tax resisters find a variety of ways to withhold money. Some resist phone
taxes, others practice "W-4 resistance" by adding exemptions to their
W-4 forms other than those they are legally entitled to. Others pay only a fraction
of their taxes to reflect the portion of every dollar they perceive as committed
by the government to military expenses. Still others simply live below the taxable
The most common approach is phone tax resistance, which simply means deducting
the 3 percent federal excise tax itemized on most telephone bills. The federal
excise tax has been associated with war throughout most of its history. First
imposed on toll calls in 1898 during the Spanish-American war era, it was removed
in 1902. During World War I it was re-imposed as a temporary tax, and continued
to tax telephone use in order to raise additional funds for wars from World
War II through Vietnam. In 1990, the tax became permanent and was set at 3 percent.
Ruth Benn, with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, says
Congress was close to disposing of the phone duty prior to the September 11
terrorist attacks. In 2000, at a time of budget surplus, the House of Representatives
overwhelmingly passed HR 236, which would have repealed the 3 percent tax. The
tariff survived, however, and now the government is so desperate for money,
says Benn, that it will probably not be removed in the foreseeable future.
Many see withholding the phone tax as the least intimidating option for tax
refusal because collection of delinquent dues is up to the IRS, not the phone
company. Veteran tax resisters say the easiest way to refuse the phone tax is
to write a letter of explanation to the phone company. Many companies, says
Benn, have clear policies for war tax resisters.
Milner, the long-time 1040 tax resister, first began resisting war tax by not
paying the federal excise tax on his phone bill. When he recently switched phone
companies from Qwest to Tel West, Milner withheld the federal excise tax amount
and wrote on his bill, "Federal tax withheld in protest of illegal military
expenditures." After internal discussions, Tel West decided to credit the
amount Milner had deducted to his account and pay the excise tax owed to the
In an email to Milner, Kerry Myers, Tel West's Manager of Financial Services
wrote: "I have established this as the official Glen Milner policy! It
was easier for me to make you federal excise tax exempt until we get our arms
around how to handle [it] properly." Myers explained that from a customer
satisfaction perspective, it was easier to credit Milner's account; especially
since he is the company's sole customer who withholds excise tax to protest
The IRS monitors what it calls "noncompliance," but does not maintain
a specific category of "war tax" withholding. In March the IRS issued
a paper rebutting what it refers to as "frivolous arguments" for failure
to pay taxes. These include arguments that the income tax is unconstitutional
and that taxes may be withheld as a protest against government programs. War
tax resistance would appear to fit this category.
Asked for comment, IRS media spokesperson, Eric Smith, referred The NewStandard
to an IRS publication entitled, "The Truth About Frivolous Arguments."
Page 19 of the 56-page document reads: "Some argue that taxpayers may refuse
to pay federal income taxes based on their religious or moral beliefs, or objection
to the use of taxes to fund certain government programs. These persons mistakenly
invoke the First Amendment in support of this frivolous position. The First
Amendment does not provide a right to refuse to pay income taxes on religious
or moral grounds, or because taxes are used to fund government programs opposed
by the taxpayer." The IRS then cites relevant case law supporting their
The consequences for war tax resistance are unpredictable, as are most direct
actions for peace, says Milner. Criminal prosecution is possible, but in practice
so rare that in most cases the risk is considered negligible. Since the modern
war tax resistance movement began in the 1940s, less than 30 people have been
jailed for resisting war taxes, the vast majority of them on convictions related
to resistance such as refusing to provide records to the government and falsely
filling out their W4 forms.
The more likely outcome is for the IRS to try collecting the tax owed through
less coercive means. Those who file but refuse to pay will probably receive
several tax-due notices and assessed penalties. Civil penalties may be added
in the 5 to 25 percent range, plus compound interest at a rate of 10 percent.
Eventually, the IRS will send a "Final Notice" letter that may take
years to initiate more serious steps.
"They're all meant to intimidate you," said Tews, the Escrow account
organizer, of the collection process.
Once the IRS issues a "final demand," its power of collection includes
garnishing wages, seizing bank accounts and, in reportedly rare instances, seizing
cars and houses. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee's website
lists all of twelve tax resisters whose cars or houses were seized in the 1980s.
Ruth Benn, member of the Committee, says the practice has become less and less
In Glen Milner's 22 years of withholding taxes, the IRS has audited him twice,
with no additional taxes owed. He has also seen his wages garnished once from
his union employer, once had monies taken from his union vacation fund and once
more from his bank account. Milner admits that he and his wife, Karol Milner,
were "scared to death" when they first began withholding money on
their 1040 form. He reasons, however, that in a "democratic" society
such as the United States, individuals have the responsibility to check their
government's illegal actions, especially those connected to the war in Iraq
and the nation's massive arsenal of nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, some non-filers may go undetected for years. In 1994, Tews
himself began practicing war tax resistance by refusing to pay the IRS hundreds
of dollars annually. Every year, he says, the IRS demands payment by sending
him a couple of letters, which he discards. In subsequent years Tews has avoided
paying federal taxes altogether by practicing what he calls "W-4 resistance"
or adding more exemptions than he's legally entitled to.
Nevertheless, Tews says the IRS has never audited him. "If I consent to
pay more taxes, then more bombs are dropped, more pollution is made and more
lives are destroyed; and if I have to suffer some infinitesimal level of consequences
as a result of my actions compared to the consequences suffered by other people
as a result of [me] consenting to pay my taxes, well to me that's -- it's not
even worth talking about," he said.
Tax resistance is not a highly publicized component of the peace movement.
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee consists of a network
of organizations and tax counseling services. There is a strong religious element,
marked in part by the involvement of Quakers, Mennonites, and members of the
Fellowship of Reconciliation.
A more recent affiliate is the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness. Founded
in 1996 to end economic and military sanctions against the Iraqi people, the
organization has since expanded its objectives and urges serious peace advocates
to engage in tax resistance.
"The one thing that the US government wants from most average, ordinary
people in regards to this war is our money," says Kathy Kelley, one of
the founders of Voices in the Wilderness. "From most of us, they don't
want our lives – we certainly think of those who are being enlisted –
but the reality of what the government wants is people to pay for this war and
not to ask a lot of questions about it."
Kelley has been a war tax resister for most of her working life. She says she
began by lowering her salary below the taxable income when she taught religion
at a Jesuit school in Chicago. When she moved to one of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods
on the north side at the height of the arms race between the former Soviet Union
and the US, Kelley says she could not talk religion and then turn around and
pay for a weapons build-up that could destroy the planet.
"The contradiction was just too much," she recalled. "I certainly
couldn't take money that my neighbors desperately needed for food, for housing,
for a drop-in center, for an alternative school – for so many needs in
this impoverished area. I couldn't say well I don't have funds because I'm going
to put it into buying more weapons."
She added, "I'm through with buying materials to kill people. Once you
make that decision – if you really believe it – you can make it
for a lifetime and then it's possible to withhold all federal income tax."
© 2005 The NewStandard.