Resisting Authority: Tony Serra

| Anarchism, Real Life Stories
Tony Serra at microphone

At the Northern California People’s Life Fund Ceremony, Oakland, 2011. Photo by Ed Hedemann.

Our October 16 Twitter post shared some information about J. Tony Serra, a criminal defense lawyer who is also a war tax resister. Serra has successfully defended several unpopular people in his career, including Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party, and Chol Soo Lee, involved in a San Francisco Chinatown murder.

This latter case was the basis for the 1989 film True Believer, in which James Woods played a lawyer based on Serra.

Serra has been convicted for his war tax resistance three times, and spent four months in prison after a 1974 conviction for “failure to file” his tax return, as well as nine months in prison in 2005-2006 for a misdemeanor of “failure to pay” $44,000 in taxes.

In 2011, at the People’s Life Fund war tax redirection ceremony in Oakland, California, he remarked, “I didn’t come to deny taxation from what I’ll call philosophic, certainly not from constitutional underpinnings, it was just more or less a naïve statement of frustration. I didn’t believe in capitalism, I rejected capitalism, I didn’t believe in banks, I didn’t believe in Wall Street, I didn’t believe in corporations, ultimately didn’t believe in [inaudible] democracy that was permeated by the influence of corporations…” However, Serra has kept up his war tax resistance since 1973, while maintaining an low-income/simple living lifestyle.

We can’t mention war tax resisters and prison without reiterating that going to prison for war tax resistance is still exceedingly rare. However, Serra has a positive outlook on his time in prison for war tax resistance:

“[I found] I like federal prison camp. I’m aberrant in that respect. It’s like locking a doctor who likes to practice medicine, who still has his license, so to speak, locking that person in a hospital. I could do writs, I could do appeals, I could do things I’d never done before, marriage, divorces, and bankruptcy and contracts and all kinds of civil matters…it was exciting.”

Serra reminds us that the potential consequences of war tax resistance can be exciting, energizing, and empowering, whatever tactics we choose to employ.

 —Post by Erica Weiland

For more about J. Tony Serra, read Ed Hedemann’s 2007 profile.
On YouTube, watch Serra’s speech at the 2011 People’s Life Fund war tax redirection ceremony.

One thought on “Resisting Authority: Tony Serra”

  1. Larry Rosenwald says:

    That’s a lovely account. I hadn’t known that _True Believer_, a movie I love, was based on this real and heroic person. Knowing that makes James Woods’s recent anti-Obama diatribes even worse, and reminds us of the difference between the real person and the person playing him.

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