One of the top questions we get at NWTRCC is, “If I don’t pay the IRS, won’t I go to jail?” Our response:
“People who are first considering war tax resistance often have the mistaken impression that people who refuse to pay their taxes from motives of conscience are at great risk of going to jail or having their homes taken away from them. In fact these risks are so rare that the list of war tax resistance cases since World War II is a short one. Here, for example is a list of war tax resisters taken to court or jailed for their resistance, and a list of property seizures and attempted property seizures against war tax resisters. The lists taken together represent fewer than a hundred people, or a fraction of one percent of the people who have practiced war tax resistance over those years.”
It is much more common for resisters to get letters from the IRS, or have the IRS levy their bank accounts, garnish their wages or self-employment income. In rare cases, the IRS seizes property, such as houses or cars, for back taxes, but since the 1990s the IRS appears to have moved away from this tactic. Jail has affected even fewer resisters over the years. (See our detailed page that covers most of the potential consequences of war tax resistance for more.)
But you can structure your resistance in such a way as to further reduce your risk to a manageable level. For example:
- If you choose to file a tax return, be honest about your income and deductions.
- If you choose not to file a tax return, do your taxes accurately and honestly anyway. Keep the full return indefinitely for your records and in case the IRS files a return for you that is inaccurate and tries to collect a larger amount than you actually owe.
However, different people may find themselves targeted differently by the IRS – sometimes we can pinpoint a specific reason for this, and sometimes we can’t. For example, outspoken public activists or those who resist large amounts of taxes may catch the IRS’ attention more readily. But some first-time, small-amount resisters have been targeted with harsh enforcement action, while some people who have resisted thousands of dollars over the years never hear from the tax collector. Those who include a letter with their tax returns have sometimes gotten “frivolous filing” penalties. And yes, a tiny fraction of war tax resisters have ended up in jail for refusal to cooperate with the tax system or for filing what the IRS considers fraudulent returns.
Resistance is a risk, but we hope you will agree that it is worth it. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee provides community, stories, experience, and support for war tax resisters. Contact a war tax resistance counselor near you if you have concerns about jail and war tax resistance. Please note that a counselor does not give tax advice, but can tell you our current knowledge about how the IRS deals with war tax resistance and about levels of risk associated with the different types of resistance. And if you are already a war tax resister, please let us know if you are facing a tax court case with potential jail time associated. The NWTRCC office may be able to connect you with various kinds of support.
“Of course there are also terrible risks involved with not doing war tax resistance. If you continue to pay war taxes, you contribute to global insecurity, nuclear terrorism, and imperialism, you put innocent people in harm’s way, and you risk the moral injury of knowing that you are complicit in such things.”
Post by Erica