Joe Stack IRS attack and the growth of the tax resistance movement

Federal tax authorities spend a lot of time trying to convince Americans like IRS attacker Joe Stack that paying taxes is part of one’s civic duty. But resistance – though not violence – is downright American, say tax protesters like Wesley Snipes.

Tony Gutierrez/AP
An American flag can be seen in Austin, Texas, through a broken window in a building destroyed when a small plane crashed into it Thursday. Authorities said that Joe Stack flew into the building shortly after taking off. The building served as offices for IRS employees.

Commenting on the suicide plane attack on an IRS office building in Austin, Texas, by tax resister Joe Stack, actor and tax protester Wesley Snipes shrugged his shoulders and said: "I think [tax revolt] was an issue even for the early colonists and the British, so what's new?"

The Boston Tea Party. The Whiskey Rebellion. The Sagebrush Rebellion.

Since its very founding, the US has been awash in sometimes violent anti-tax movements, giving way to a strain, amid ever broader federal reach, of a particularly pervasive, and more individualistic, form of rebellion in the late 20th century: The tax-resistance, or tax-denial, phenomenon.

Mr. Stack, a software engineer and musician, apparently bought into a tax resistance argument that dates back to the 1950s, as he references in his 3,000 word manifesto his attempt to claim “wonderful exemptions" that the IRS ultimately didn't approve.

Two people, including Stack, died and two others were hurt after he piloted his Piper Cherokee into a 200-person IRS office in Austin’s Echelon Building on Thursday.

Deep resistance to taxation

Though few hail Stack’s arguably terrorist act as an appropriate retort against the taxman, his lament does dovetail with a deep resistance in the American zeitgeist to over-bearing taxation.

That’s why the Drudge Report made much of a recent IRS purchase order for 60 sawed-off shotguns, which shouldn’t have been that surprising since the IRS’ criminal division already has 2,700 armed special agents.

Escaping European serfdom, Americans mixed their latent distrust of centralized power with a sense of individual and economic freedom, which modern conservatism, especially, equates with tax relief.

At the same time, the Great Depression and rise of the New Deal showed many Americans that the industrial era required new federal protections for workers.

But that decades-long expansion of federal power and national debt has come under fire as President Obama and the Democratic Congress attempt to expand Washington’s power to tax and spend even further, ostensibly for the good of all Americans.

“Most Americans would probably agree that our hatred for taxes has something to do with a more profound aversion to government in general – an aversion with deep roots in our history,” writes Robin Einhorn, author of “American Taxation, American Slavery,” in a 2006 essay. “A nation founded in a tax revolt, we are told, is true to itself only when it is ‘starving the beast.’”

Yet the fomenters of the original Boston Tea Party, Mr. Einhorn writes, “had no interest in renouncing their own power to tax themselves.”

Terrorist plots against the IRS

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counts five known domestic terrorist plots against the IRS in the past 15 years. Tensions are rising as federal tax authorities have begun stepping up collection efforts in the midst of flagging tax receipts.

"There's been an explosive growth of anti-government militias and so-called Patriot groups over the past year, and the central idea of many of them is that taxes are completely illegitimate," Intelligence Project editor Mark Potok tells Fox News.

It’s not just conservatives, either. Part of the tax resistance movement is left-wing resisters who don’t want their tax money spent on foreign wars.

Some resisters , the AP writes, believe the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to levy income taxes, was not legally ratified; it was ratified in 1913. There’s also a belief that paying taxes is purely voluntary (nope, the IRS says).

“Unfortunately, on the fringes of the new anti-elitism, pockets of extreme anti-tax resistance rage,” writes Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page.

Jonathan Siegel, a law professor at George Washington University, tells the Wall Street Journal that the tax-protester or tax-denier movement has been fueled in the past two decades by technology.

Yet, Mr. Siegel adds, “Mr. Stack doesn't fit the traditional profile of a tax denier because, while he appears to have complained about taxes and sought to evade them, he didn't claim he was under no legal obligation to pay them.”


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