The IRS: Is It Legal?
David v. Goliath
The moral qualms also extend to waste. In 1982, in an effort to rein in government spending, President Reagan setup the Grace Commission as the first comprehensive investigation into the government's spending habits. Tax defiers often look to the report's distressing findings as proof the IRS's enforcement of tax law is theft than "what we pay for a civilized society," as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously called them. Aaron Russo quotes the Commission's summary of findings:
"With two thirds of everyone's personal income taxes wasted or not collected, 100 percent of what is collected is absorbed solely by interest on the federal debt and by federal government contributions to transfer payments. In other words, all individual income tax revenues are gone before one nickel is spent on the services taxpayers expect from their government."
Mark Axinn, chairman of the New York Libertarian Party, explains: "[The main issue is] there's no correlation between the recipient and the payer of the money. The IRS's main goal is to confiscate people's resources, by funding into a Ponsi scheme or fight foreign wars we don't believe in. The IRS is the poster child for government theft."
Given that taxes pay for the IRS, it would appear the Libertarian point of view connotes that a taxed society funds its own theft and enslavement. It also funds war at the expense of social services, which for the left is a main grievance of how government spends tax dollars.
Because the federal government has nearly unlimited resources at its disposal, there isn't much chance that tax defiers will triumph in this battle of wills. As Johnston notes, "Most [tax defiers] don't have any money" and so have "a batting average of .000" when fighting the illegality claim of the IRS. Yet they persist.
The attorney Tom Cryer is famous in the tax defier universe for his popular website truthattack.org. On trial for failure to file income taxes, he presented an 84-page brief to the court arguing classic tax defier stances on the illegality of the IRS. The court dismissed his claims, but the jury did find Cryer not guilty of "willfully" failing to file returns. For this, Cryer became a hero among his peers and earned the retaliatory ire of the IRS. The government continued to petition for over $1.7 million in IRS penalties, ultimately forcing Cryer to countersue. (The trial is set to begin this spring in New Orleans.)
With this power imbalance, tax defier activity is pressurized and can easily escalate, as it did for Joseph Stack. Stack was once an independent IT consultant. When a 1986 law favoring IBM's tax cuts passed, it directly limited consulting opportunities in the software industry. In a Web manifesto he published hours before his death, Stack cites that the consequences of that law on his life were the beginning of his own unraveling. Soon after, he found the tax meetings, and eventually, when his personal hole was too deep, he cracked.
Ben Franklin's famous for saying there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. In the U.S., the IRS is taxes, and, with the government so dependent on them to pay the bills, it's unlikely any legal argument will winnow life's inevitables down to just death.