December 7, 2004
For three weeks beginning October 14, say sources at
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the assault on
Falluja was pure PSYOPS, a mere announcement of
assault, designed to provoke "the opposition" into
premature response. The lie worked pretty well. "The
opposition" abandoned their so-called safe havens and
"melted into the night." For this reason, many
residents of the city expected the PSYOPS theater to
let out early, too.
One hapless doctor, Hakim Mirzoev, says he expected
the Americans to surround the city, fire a few shots,
and declare victory. He didn't realize that a greater
PSYOPS scheme was in the making, a plan to flatten
Falluja under boot and mortar so that the City of
Mosques could be rebuilt by Christian Soldiers into a
Model City-a Pasadena by the Euphrates. With this
world-historical Crusade in mind, Falluja was crushed,
thousands were killed and wounded, hundreds of
thousands displaced, so that America could perceive
itself great in the gaze of the world.
So who made Falluja possible? Who enabled budgets to
be filled with imperial plans? American taxpayers did.
The moral tracer on this funding leads to me and you,
the co-investors who backed this pre-holiday discount
on the lives of Fallujans, thousands of lives, forever
lost and unlived. To pay for this moral bankruptcy, we
got up in the morning, worked all day, and sent money
to the war machine. Ask not who bankrolled Falluja.
Texas school teacher Shirley Smith made the connection
between her tax dollars and the war in Iraq during the
first week of the invasion. It was March 27, 2003, and
she was listening to Bitta Mostofi speak at the
University of Texas campus at Austin. Mostofi had been
to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, serving witness
to sufferings caused by USA-supported sanctions.
It was right after the invasion and only a few weeks
before the tax deadline, recalls Smith. Mostofi said
it would be an effective protest against the war if
everyone refused to pay taxes. And that's when the
light went on. Right away, Smith submitted a new W-4
form, so that no taxes would be withheld. No more
money would go from her to the war. On April 15, 2003,
Smith joined an annual protest at the downtown Austin
post office. Camera crews captured her image as she
helped to pass out leaflets. The next day a couple of
colleagues spoke to her about seeing pictures on the
local news. One colleague got excited.
"She told me she would like to stop paying her taxes,
too," recalls Smith. "So I explained to her that we
re-direct our tax money into groups that work for
peace. And then she wasn't quite as interested. I
think it's important to stress that we're not in this
for personal gain." Like many war tax resisters, Smith
sends her tax money to an escrow fund, where interest
gets applied to peace work.
When tax day rolled around this year, Smith enclosed a
letter with her tax form, explaining why she would not
send money. In August she received her first reply
from the Internal Revenue Service. On November 16, she
received her third. It arrived by certified mail,
warning Smith that the IRS would begin looking for
property or other assets to attach.
IRS Public Affairs officer Ken Vargas of the Austin
office explains that the collections office sends out
"soft notices" first, followed by "harder notices"
later. Vargas says the IRS doesn't keep a handy record
of war tax resisters, and he insists that "normal
collection procedures" apply to all subjects,
regardless of whether they write letters stating their
war tax resistance.
In fact, the tax reform act of 1998 makes it illegal
for the IRS to designate tax protesters as a special
class. A June 2004 audit by the Treasury Inspector
General reported "233 isolated instances" where
subjects had been identified as tax protesters
nevertheless. The only time the IRS can justify this
practice, warned the IG, is when case notes reflect
what subjects say about themselves. The IRS office
most likely to abuse its classification of tax
resisters was the office of Chief Counsel.
Andy McKenna, who began his war tax resistance after
the First Gulf War, says that the three letters sent
to Smith this year may serve as one example of more
aggressive collections. In a press release, prepared
for distribution this week, McKenna joined with other
war tax resisters to warn of increased enforcement in
the Austin area. At a mid-November meeting of the
Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation
(ACOMT), members shared their impressions that a long
season of relative neglect by the IRS is now being
followed by a spate of collection activities. In
mid-October, McKenna himself was hit up for his first
wage garnishment, which left him only $330.00 per
paycheck, twice a month.
Anecdotal evidence from Texas does not yet support a
finding that there is a nationwide crackdown on war
tax resisters. From a few dozen emails sent to war tax
resisters elsewhere, only Mary Loehr, former national
coordinator for the National War Tax Resistance
Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), responded with news
of fresh garnishment attempts in Ithaca, Albuquerque,
and Chicago. Co-director of Peace and Justice Studies
at Wellesley College, Larry Rosenwald, says that
computer technology has helped to speed up the IRS
over the past five years, "increasing ability to
locate wtrs [war tax resisters] and their bank
accounts by way of computerized records." Ruth Benn,
current coordinator for NWTRCC, reports in the group's
latest newsletter that, "It is still not clear if
there is more actual collection nationally."
Back in Austin, Susan Van Haitsma, a war tax resister
since 1985, feels that her fellow ACOMT members have
good reasons to report their experiences, even if no
broader trend emerges. "The fact that several in our
local group are experiencing collection efforts at the
same time is probably just a coincidence," writes Van
Haitsma via email, "and the reason we are seeking to
publicize it is just that, in the midst of war, it's a
concrete example of resistance that is of more
interest to the general public (it seems) when we are
actually engaged in the legal push and pull of
Which brings us back to Falluja and the claim made by
Bitta Mostofi that massive tax resistance would work.
Anyone interested in cutting ties to this war can stop
paying taxes. Yet, as Kathy Kelly noted in a recent
essay, a great deterrent to war tax resistance,
besides irrational fear of the IRS, is fear of family
reactions, especially from spouses. Significantly,
neither McKenna, Smith, nor Van Haitsma is married.
Smith says that her daughter was immediately afraid
that mom was going to prison. But prison is not a
likely outcome, says Smith, as long as war tax
resisters remain honest about where their money is.
Smith's father is retired from military service. When
she told him about her conversion to war tax
resistance, he joked that she didn't want to pay for
his retirement. And that was the worst thing he's ever
said about her decision. Supportive is the word Smith
uses to describe her parents.
War tax resistance affects people in different ways.
Van Haitsma lives a lifestyle at poverty level, taking
care to earn too little to tax. McKenna is starting a
new job, different from the one where he was
garnished. Smith, the school teacher, on the other
hand, is adamant about her work commitment.
"I feel like teaching is a calling," says Smith.
Conscience demands that she keep teaching, even if the
IRS garnishes her wages. Smith teaches English as a
Second Language and she works with middle school
students who are making good grades but who have no
family history of college. The program is called AVID
or Achievement Via Individual Determination. Smith
spends her days helping students to fight voices that
would discourage rising classes. She is always
volunteering for after-hours events. And the district
wants to pay her more money. She pleads, no, don't pay
me any more money!
Speaking via cell phone, school teacher Smith lists
all the charities where she sends money, to keep her
taxable income down. Then she asks a final question
before saying goodbye: "Have you heard the quote by
Alexander Haig? 'Let them march all they want, as long
as they continue to pay their taxes'?"
Keep buying, and keep buying in. Soon after Sept. 11,
Forbes magazine urged Bush to get the American people
back into the shopping malls. Soon enough, "shopping"
was included in the president's short list of things
that count for daily life in America. Now that Falluja
has been rubbleized and stained in blood, freedom
loving people everywhere will be sick with curiosity:
are the plans long ready, Mr. Bush, to build a
The Falluja assault is an egregious blunder, even by
the awful standards set by President Bush. Until
Falluja, there was a tattered moral argument that
Bush's illegal invasion had at least toppled a bad guy
from power. But Falluja is a campaign of, by, and for
the sheer effect of terror. As a demoralized peace
movement looks to Falluja with dread, Kathy Kelly
reminds us, there is one thing that any taxpayer of
conscience can do.
Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review
and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther
King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His
chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears
in Dimes Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander
Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.
NOTES & LINKS:
[This is first in a series of articles about war tax
resistance, based on meetings and interviews with
Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation.]
Third Battle of Falluja: