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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

War tax resistance: today’s civil disobedience

A group of students met on March 30 for a presentation on war-tax resisting led by Daniel Woodham. If you’re from the government, though, no such presentation occurred.That is because it is illegal for Woodham, a long-time war-tax resister and regional resistance counselor, to advocate people doing anything illegal. The illegal and somewhat dangerous nature of resisting hasn’t stopped Woodham or the many others like him from withholding some or all of their federal income tax.

According to a flyer put out by the War Resisters League, the government claims to use a quarter of an individual’s federal income tax for military spending. In actuality, somewhere closer to half of the tax goes for military purposes once veterans’ services and nuclear research is taken into account.

Any amount is too high for resisters. They do not morally support war and therefore believe that they should not financially support it either.

“My great-great-grandfather was drafted for the Confederate Army,” said Frank Massey, IFP gifts discernment coordinator, Quakerism professor and former resister. “In those days you could pay $300 to hire someone else to fight for you. But he thought that if he opposed fighting, it would be just as bad to hire someone else to fight in his place. So he resisted.”

That mentality is what caused Massey to begin resisting the war tax in 1979.

Woodham, who began resisting in 1990 after the first Gulf War, explained that most people, Massey and himself included, get into resisting gradually by withholding a small amount of the tax on the basis of principle rather than effectiveness.

Fear of IRS consequences causes most people to proceed with trepidation, Woodham explained. The extent of those consequences was thoroughly documented in the movie “Death and Taxes,” produced by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, with which Woodham opened the presentation.

During this movie, in which Woodham appears, resisters explain their reasoning for not paying the tax as well as ways they deal with or avoid trouble from the IRS.

One featured resister was Julia Butterfly Hill, the woman credited as withholding the largest sum of federal income tax money from the government: $150,000. When the government tried to collect from Hill, she protested by living in a redwood tree for two years. Since leaving the tree, Hill has not heard from the IRS.

Another resister who told of her experiences was Juanita Nelson, the first woman jailed for refusing to pay the war tax. She tells of her experience, in which the police carried her from her house one morning while she was wearing only her robe and placed her in jail for a day in 1959.

“I balk at the notion of contributing so directly to making atomic hash of others and perhaps of my own wonderful self,” Nelson said in her essay “A Matter of Freedom” published by the National War Tax Resistance Coordination Committee.

Woodham has had his wages garnished three times. Massey once had an IRS agent visit his place of employment. His bank account was seized twice and his wife’s wages were garnished for several months.

Fear of the IRS should not deter anyone interested in resisting, said Woodham. He explained that upon first withholding tax money, a person will receive three computer-generated letters from the IRS requesting that they pay the tax and informing them of possible consequences, but it rarely goes beyond that.

“If you’re not a big fish they usually don’t waste their time,” he said.

Woodham explained, however, that there is no real way of telling what the IRS will do because resisting is breaking the law.

People, like Woodham himself, quickly learn to live with the consequences, or at least the fear of them.

“You put up a cheap door so if it gets kicked in (by the IRS) you don’t worry about it,” said Woodham.

In the film, resisters explain ways in which they are dealing with a potential IRS backlash. Some choose to live below the taxable income level, which is $9700 a year, according to Woodham.

These people are able to survive on little income by creating a strong support system and relying on the barter system. By using the barter system people, even those who are in the taxable range limit the amount of money they put into the economy, and thus the amount of taxes collected by the government.

David Gross, a member of the Northern California War Tax Resisters organization, explained in the film how he went as far as to brew his own beer to avoid the alcohol tax.

Both Woodham and Massey stress the importance of a strong support system for resisters. That support becomes even more important if the IRS does decide to take action by seizing houses or bank accounts, or garnishing wages.

If someone is interested in becoming a resister, Woodham says that the first step is to alter their W-4 form.

He explained that the lower the number of dependents a person claims on the form, the more the government takes out of each paycheck and returns in the form of a refund. By increasing that number the government removes less and the person will end up owing the government taxes come April. And then you have a choice whether and how much to resist.

Woodham offered one other warning for people considering resisting – do not withhold your state income tax.

“The state will find you a lot quicker than the feds,” he said.

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