Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Attack of the Tax Protestors!

I've mentioned before that I have a strange fascination with tax protestors, those sometimes naive, sometimes wily, and sometimes crazy people who think there's no law requiring you to pay federal income taxes. As a small public service, I've devoted a section of my website to laying out exactly what the law is.

It turns out that hundreds of people look at this section every day, and I get a fair bit of mail about it. Some, about half or a bit less, comes from people who are right in my "target market" -- they've seen tax protestor stuff on the Internet or they've heard it from friends; they find it at least somewhat plausible; they wonder, "could this possibly be true?"; and they mail me to say they were happy to find reliable information that showed them the actual law. The other half, or perhaps a bit more, comes from irate, unreachable individuals, who accuse me of being ignorant, or, even worse, part of a massive conspiracy to hide the truth from hard-working people who are having their money stolen by the government.

Yesterday, one of the leading protestors, a fellow named Larken Rose, a big proponent of something called the "861 argument" (it's too complicated to go into, but it claims that section 861 of the tax code and some other sections and regulations show that the domestic income of U.S. citizens is not taxable), sent his fan base a message reviewing my web page that responds to the 861 argument.

Wow. My hits went through the roof and I got more mail than I could respond to. "Yale & Harvard didn't teach you much," was one correspondent's subject line. "[Y]our treatment of the subject matter (in my opinion) was so superficial and incomplete, I wouldn't deem it worthy of a FIRST YEAR LAW STUDENT's effort," said another. In response to the demand for more detail, I actually updated my 861 page and added a further 861 page with more detailed quotations and citations.

What drives these people? Why do they so resolutely believe such complete nonsense? I point out on my web page that Larken Rose recently finished serving a substantial prison sentence for income tax evasion. You might think that that would influence some people's opinion as to whether he is a trustworthy source of income tax information. But no, it only seems to enhance his credibility in their eyes. Why? It would be an interesting anthropological study to find out.

My untrained guess is that some people have a deep-seated yearning to believe that there is a massive conspiracy against them. Some of my income tax correspondents have also provided allegedly conclusive evidence that the U.S. government blew up the Oklahoma City federal building or the World Trade Center. Many tax protestors also believe that the government is enslaved by the Federal Reserve banks and must do whatever they say, including oppressing the public. Perhaps the belief in such a conspiracy helps people to cope with setbacks and hardships in their life -- it must be some comfort to think that their problems stem from forces that they couldn't be expected to control. But of course this is just armchair psychology.

I've tried to explain to some of my correspondents that even if their were a government-wide conspiracy to hide the truth about the income tax code (which is obviously a fantastical notion already), such a conspiracy could never extend to all law professors and private lawyers. There are innumerable law professors and lawyers who've made their whole career out of suing the government and bringing government injustice to light. My own colleague Jonathan Turley, for example, has sued the government about Area 51, about environmental issues, about national security matters, and much else. He's not afraid to sue the government for anything, and he's just one of many, many lawyers who do the same kind of thing. If there were a legitimate argument that most people don't have to pay income taxes, and that the government is concealing this truth, these lawyers would be making that argument, especially considering that the financial incentive to do so would be enormous.

Some correspondents seem a little moved by this argument, but most of them prefer to stick with their conspiracy theories and to take their legal advice from convicted felons instead of from respectable lawyers and law professors. Strange.

Well, it's amusing to have achieved some tiny amount of fame, even if it's only in the bizarre Internet world of tax protestors. Maybe some day I'll be as well known among a wider audience.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Siegel,

I got thrown in the slammer a few years ago for income tax evasion. They're holding me in a minimum security women's prison in upstate New York, and WOW, women's prison is really all those things you've seen in the movies... Ahem, anyway, during my work shifts in the prison library (volunteer work gets me better "trades" with the outside world--things like cigs and good lipstick) I read your blog.

I, too, used to be an income tax dodger and look where it landed me! I should have known better than to listen to those anti-tax nut jobs who promised me it was legal, and that I was being a good, patriotic citizen by refusing to let my government rob me of my hard-earned money. After all, unfair taxation by the British was one of the triggers that spurred the New World Colonialists to revolt and start the Revolutionary War! Where's the justice in the fact that our country's "founding fathers" are depicted as heroes for refusing to knuckle under and pay taxes to their British overlords? While I, a contemporary rebel, must languish in this skanky cement block for the same crime?

Perhaps as an extension of your educational efforts to demonstrate to people that they must pay their taxes, you could also offer pro-bono legal services to unfortunate chumps like me.

Mr. Siegel, if you're ever bored and lonely on a Saturday afternoon, you're welcome to come to visiting hours at the Big House. If you tell me in advance that you're coming, I'll bribe the guard to look the other way and perhaps together we can work out a "payment plan" to buy the legal services I need to get me outta this place.

Keep up the good work,
Caged but Wiser

Jon Siegel said...

So sorry to hear of your troubles. Thanks for your message -- I hope it will help others avoid having the same thing happen to them.