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Tax Resistance Movement Grows In Response To US Support For Genocide

Above photo: Upwards of 400,000 pro-Palestine protestors take the streets in a national march in Washington, DC to show support for Palestinians and call for a ceasefire and end the genocide in Gaza, January 13, 2024. Eman Mohammed.

Since October 7, many in the U.S have have grown to understand how our tax dollars fund the genocide in Gaza.

This knowledge is inspiring a boom in an old form of resistance — tax resistance.

Since October 7, 2023, the slaughter of Gaza has played out on phone screens across the world and those following have seen indescribable images of violence. For many, beneath the experience of bearing witness to genocide is the awareness that, as Americans, it is our tax dollars funding the butchering of a nation.

With this knowledge, more Americans are coming to the conclusion that they can no longer pay for the weapons and other support going directly to Israel, a settler colony that has murdered over 40,000 Palestinian people in Gaza over the past six months.

And that knowledge has activated an old form of resistance — tax resistance.

“Since the invasion of Gaza, we’ve been very busy,” Lincoln Rice, Coordinator of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), tells Mondoweiss. “Normally throughout the year, we might offer two or three online sessions, with anywhere from eight to 20 folks for each session.” Now, Rice says that they are doing workshops on a weekly basis and most of those online sessions have hundreds of people registering.

It is natural that war tax resistance would see an uptick when there is a highly publicized war or genocide, and less when America’s brutality is hidden. But the nature of the way Gazans have transmitted the horrors of the occupation has reignited interest at levels not seen since the Vietnam War.

Rice says that before October 2023, the war tax resistance movement in the U.S. was mostly made of older, white people. But the interest now has skewed younger, especially people from the ages of 20-35 years, and there has also been increased racial diversity. This is unsurprising, considering that the fear of possible consequences for not paying taxes — a very real fear in immigrant, Black, and brown communities — is now outweighing the heaviness of paying for genocide.

“Tax resistance is something that spans multiple political opinions. It spans generations,” says Nick Lancellotti, an organizer with We The People, which advocates for both war tax resistance and voting resistance. “What we are trying to do with this is bring in as many people as possible to see that it is time for a complete shift in our political climate.”

And that’s a shift that many not only are ready for, but cannot mentally, morally, or spiritually survive without. “There is a collective rage that’s happening right now, which was already happening before October 7th,” says June Johnson, an organizer with We The People. “People are starting to understand just how pervasive this evil empire is. People see that this is not just happening in Palestine, but that Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) train [police] to use their tactics on Black and brown people in the U.S.”

War tax resistance has ebbed and flowed, but it has a long history. In occupied Turtle Island, what is now known as the U.S., ​​the Algonquin participated in one of the earliest known examples of war tax resistance in this colony, when the Algonquin refused to pay taxes to the Dutch. In 1709 the Quaker Assembly refused to pay taxes for an invasion of Canada, saying  “it was contrary to their religious principles to hire men to kill one another.” The modern tax resistance movement, however, started with the establishment of a centralized military in World War II, when for the first time, a large percentage of people were required to pay income taxes.

The movement intensified during the Vietnam War, as pacifists and objectors noted the enormous cost going towards killing Vietnamese people and forcibly drafting men to fight, and the lack of funds for social programs in the U.S. There were an estimated 20,000 income tax resisters in the early 1970s, and telephone tax resistance grew to an estimated half a million people by 1972.

For many Americans, the threat of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) looms large in our cultural imagination. For this reason, tax resistance might sound scary, but it’s a more accessible form of protest than you think. The ask from organizations like NWTRCC is for resistors to refuse at least 5% of their income taxes. We The People advise resisters to fill out their taxes normally while attacking a letter stating why they are choosing not to pay all or some of their taxes. If one is worried about wage garnishment, Rice suggests keeping money in a non-interest-bearing account. “If you currently have money in an interest-bearing account, banks will report your income and interest if you get more than $10 a year.” Between that reporting and possibly having given the IRS that bank account details previously for a return, Rice says this makes it easier for the IRS to put a levy on your account.

The issue, Rice says, arises when people are not engaging in tax resistance but tax evasion — which is either not filing your tax return or filing a false tax return. “If someone chooses something that looks like tax evasion, their risks are much greater,” says Rice. It’s also worth mentioning that many of the high-profile cases of people being put in jail for not paying taxes were actually cases of fraud and evasion, not resistance. In fact, only two people have been arrested for war tax resistance since World War II, according to Lancellotti.1 Telephone tax resistance, for those with landline phones, is also a low-risk form of protest. You simply withhold the amount on your local telephone bill listed as “Federal Excise Tax” or “Federal Tax,” which goes into a general fund that aids militarization and war. There’s also another method of not paying the government which is reducing your taxable income by contributing to retirement or 529 funds, living below taxable income (approximately $12,550 for a single person in 2021), or maximizing deductions so that no or less income tax is owed. This method is legal and Lancellotti points out wealthy people do it all the time. However, it might not be the most effective form of protest because it is still playing into the system and does not clearly state why you are refusing to comply with taxation.

We The People is also trying to invoke the concept of “tithing” by encouraging people to put the amount they withhold from the IRS for resistance into their communities or for many, to direct aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The concept of taxation is not inherently evil and it is not what is being resisted. Tithing reaffirms our commitment to funding our communities and preventing war, which is what our taxes should be going to if we lived in a just society. Tithing is part of the radical imagination we must do to not only envision a new world but to live in it right now.

You can also not file a return at all, which is obviously a more dangerous form of tax resistance since it falls under tax avoidance or evasion. However, this might be an option appealing to those who want to remain out of the system or opt out of the system entirely. While NWTRCC doesn’t advise people to refuse to file, they acknowledge the myriad of reasons a tax resister might choose to do so, including the argument that “The federal government and the IRS are morally illegitimate. We have no obligation to cooperate with them or to accept the penalties and harassment that they impose on tax refusers.”

While this is a riskier form of protest and all tax resistance comes with some risk — excluding legally utilizing deductions or living below taxable income — Rice also points out that the IRS has limited resources to go after tax resistors, mostly because the Republicans have been steadily defunding the agency since the Tea Party takeover in 2010. Now, he says the agency is using old computers from the 2000s and has seen its workforce cut in half over the past 12 years. “The IRS was more active with war tax resisters during the Vietnam War up through the mid-nineties, but they also saw that every time they were more active with either seizing property or a car or a home, all it seemed to do was raise more awareness of war tax resistance and it raised sympathy.”

“Whether the IRS becomes funded or not in the next four years will largely depend on who’s elected president and who controls Congress,” says Rice. “If the Republicans control anything, it’ll mean that the IRS will stay at its current terrible funding.”

When I was growing up I had heard others say “All I have to do is pay taxes and die.” But in my mother’s Black Southern family, I heard “All I have to do is stay Black and die.” As Johnson points out, this is because Black people – although the fear of the IRS looms over us too — understand the fragility and inherent unfairness of these institutions. “You’re very aware that the social contract is broken when you are a Black woman or other person of color in this society,” she says, adding that you have to constantly question “Do I play into this system that I know is harming me? Do I ignore it? Do I fight against it? And I feel like you constantly go through that and you shuffle through that energy until you realize ‘I’m not playing into it anymore.’”

I, for one, can attest that after October of last year, everything changed for me. The systems I found I could wait and tolerate, meekly hoping one day they might reform or be dismantled, became powers I committed myself to being in open rebellion against. Compliance, for me, is not an option. One could also say that war tax resisters are upholding their country’s responsibility to prevent or not commit genocide, when the government is not only failing to stop the genocide but gleefully providing huge shipments of weapons paid for by our taxes. For me, emotionally, I cannot live with my money directly going towards the slaughter of Gaza. Each image I see is a damning picture of complicity, screams out at me my own culpability. Taxes are not as certain as death. Death is death. And our taxes pay for death, but we can refuse this reality and begin a new one. If we resist in mass numbers, they cannot punish us all. They will instead, have to reckon with the new world we are building.

Notes

1. Other sources offer varying accounts of the number of people arrested for tax resistance, but even the largest estimates are small with a maximum of 20 people.

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