The War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund began almost 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan was president, U.S.-backed Contras were hard at work on our behalf, the Cold War was at its height, and U.S. Marine headquarters in Beruit, Lebanon, had just been bombed.
In the mid 1980s, military tax resisters who refused to pay all or a portion of their income tax to support mad military policies of the United States (and MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction) were being socked with large penalties, interest, liens, garnishments, and, on a few occasions, seizure of their property to settle accounts. Moreover, as a result of widespread tax fraud, the IRS created the “frivolous penalty,” charging $500 for claiming extra dependents on the W-4 form, a popular method of war tax resistance. Today the frivolous penalty has grown to $5000.
In 1982 a core group of 83 people across the country decided we could easily share $463.14 in penalties and interest incurred by a few military tax resisters who appealed to the war tax resistance community for help. The more people we could recruit to shoulder the penalties and interest of resisters, the lighter the burden for everyone. With the modest help we could provide, conscientious resisters were able to keep on keeping on.
The penalty fund had the added benefit of making us all tax resisters, not just those who withheld all or a portion of their income taxes. The base list of supporters has been as high as 800 people sharing the weight. In nearly every appeal, at least 200 people respond, usually more. In all we’ve paid out about $250,000 to help resisters stay in the struggle.
Send us your name and street address by U.S. mail (P.O. Box 25, North Manchester IN 46962) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will add you to the list of supporters who are willing to pay a share of resisters’ penalties and interest. Pay the amount assessed to each active member on the list or pay what you can. We keep your name on the list until you miss three appeals.
About once each year, the steering committee reviews requests from resisters against whom the IRS has already moved. We ask resisters to provide:
We divide the total amount for all resisters by the number of active names on the membership list to arrive at a “share.” We then send out an appeal to both actives and inactive members. Each contributor pays all of a share or whatever amount she can afford. Some pay more than a share. If we collect 75 percent of the total we ask for, each resisters gets 75 percent of the amount they requested. We cannot promise that we will collect the total amount requested; usually, however, we can reimburse between 50% and 80% of each appeal. Resisters do not need to be members of the Penalty Fund before applying for aid, but we hope they will become contributors afterward.
We do not make any distinction between those who take big risks, such as non-filers and those who resist a small, symbolic amount. If we were purists, we would all be living below a taxable income anyway, so we avoid judging any effort and cheer on anyone who will say no to paying for war.
A steering committee made up of people from North Manchester, Indiana, where the idea for the fund was hatched, operate the fund. We welcome others who would like to serve on the steering committee. Contact us if you would like to serve.
If money could buy security, we’d be the most secure country in the world. The National Priorities Project reports that “the combined military spending of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, and Sudan is still over $190 billion less than the total military spending of the United States.” So the protest against the huge machinery of the military industrial complex is no more futile than the attempt to have security through military strength.
Effective or not, conscience dictates that we protest the conscription of our money for activities we would never assent to if we had to do them ourselves. And who knows, in any small action there may be the seeds of a mass movement or the ability to turn even one person into a peacemaker.
Military tax resistance is a witness to the power of peace and the vigorous exercise of personal conscience. Besides that, we’re buoyed by the fellowship of people who want to invest in nonviolent action.
In every Penalty Fund newsletter we publish the testimonies of resisters. They say it best — in word and deed.
Julie Garber, Cliff Kindy, Mary Lutz, Leland Beery, Jeff Hunn, Yvonne Dilling, Ken Brown (in spirit, 1933–2010)
P.O. Box 25
N. Manchester, IN 46962
Feb. 2009 (PDF)