5 Notable American Tax Protestors
Since the time of our founding fathers (you know, the ones with the tea in the harbor and the complaints about that whole taxation without representation thing?) there have been more than a few Americans who took a stand against the man and said read my lips, no more taxes. Some have good reasons "“ after all, Mahatma Gandhi advocated tax protestation as a quick and nonviolent way to bring down a government "“ and some have really dumb reasons. So, in the spirit of tax season, here are a few of the country's most notable tax protestors.
1. Julia "Butterfly" Hill
Julia "Butterfly" Hill, an environmental activist best known for the 738 days she lived in a California redwood tree in an effort to keep the Pacific Logging Company from cutting it down, is also what's called a war-tax resister. In 2003, Hill refused to pay her taxes, instead sending the money that she would have paid to nonprofit social service and environmental organizations, in a effort to speak out against the war in Iraq. "Thousands of others before me have taken this stand," she said at the time. "I have thought through this very carefully, and with a clear mind and heart I am humanely re-directing my tax payments to where they belong, because our current federal government refuses to do so."
2. Ed & Elaine Brown
In 2007, Ed and Elaine Brown of New Hampshire were both convicted on several counts of tax fraud and evasion, prompting a long standoff between them and the authorities. According to evidence presented by the feds, the Browns had basically stopped paying taxes in the mid 1990s and had hidden about $1.9 million of income from the government. Despite having paid income taxes prior to the "˜90s, the Browns claimed the "861 argument." Under this particular theory, the domestic income of US citizens and residents is not supposed to be taxable, owing to some "ambiguity" in the tax code "“ so the Browns said there was no law forcing them to pay income tax. They also claimed that they were not US citizens, that they no longer recognized US law (only God's law), and that the authorities pursuing them were in collusion with a nefarious cabal of Freemasons, Zionist Jews and a secret society known as the Illuminati. While holed up in what the news media called a "compound" "“ an energy-efficient, well-fortified, and way-off-the-grid home "“ the Browns relied on a network of equally batty supporters to bring them food, water and other supplies. Throughout the standoff, Browns claimed (on their MySpace page, on which they adopted the New Hampshire creed, "Live free or die," as their motto) that they'd never surrender, that it would be in a bloody blaze of glory and bullets that they would be removed from their home.
That, however, was not the case. On October 4, 2007, federal marshals, posing as supporters of the Browns, lured the couple out on to the front porch, where they arrested them without incident. Ed and Elaine Brown are currently serving out their respective sentences, Ed in a US penitentiary in Illinois and Elaine at a federal medical center near Ft. Worth, Texas.
3. Vivien Kellems
Vivien Kellems, a Connecticut industrialist, spent much of her adult life fighting against what she considered improper taxation. Starting in the late 1940s, Kellems began protesting the taxes she was asked to withhold from her employees' paychecks, saying, "If they [the government] wanted me to be their [tax] agent, they'd have to pay me, and I want a badge." With her company facing bankruptcy after a lengthy court battle, Kellems ultimately gave in and followed tax regulations. In her personal life, however, Kellems continued to refuse to pay her taxes, sending in blank tax forms each year. Kellems took her case before the Supreme Court multiple times, but died in 1975, before her final appeal could be heard.
4. Wesley Snipes
Actor Wesley Snipes, best known for films such as White Man Can't Jump and the Blade trilogy, as well as his appearance in the video for Michael Jackson's "Bad," was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2008 after the court found that he willfully failed to file his tax returns. While he was acquitted of the charge of conspiracy to defraud the government, Snipes had been involved in a shady tax protestation deal, attempting to use the classic tax protester's line, the "861 argument" (see Ed and Elaine Brown). This argument didn't so much fly and the two people who had helped Snipes were convicted. The court later ruled that Snipes could remain free while his case is on appeal.
5. Charles Merrill
Charles Merrill, a 75-year-old gay artist living in Palm Springs, Calif., has refused to pay his taxes for the past four years, after President George Bush used his State of the Union address to urge Congress to pass a federal amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Merrill said in an interview recently that he would gladly pay his taxes "“ as soon as the US government affords gays and lesbians the same rights as straight citizens. After Proposition 8 passed in California and similar ballot initiatives restricting the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman passed in other states, gay and lesbian activists, including singer Melissa Etheridge, are calling for a national boycott of taxes this April 15.