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Context of '1985: Anti-Tax Protesters Argue 16th Amendment ‘Null and Void’'

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Arthur Porth, a Wichita, Kansas, building contractor, files a claim in a Kansas court to recover his income tax payment of $151. Porth argues that the 16th Amendment is unconstitutional because it places the taxpayer in a position of involuntary servitude contrary to the 13th Amendment. The court rules against Porth, but the defeat does not stop him. For 16 years Porth continues battling the income tax requirement, finding new and inventive challenges to the practice. He claims that the 16th Amendment “put[s] Americans into economic bondage to the international bankers,” a claim that the Southern Poverty Law Center will call “a thinly veiled anti-Semitic reference to the supposed ‘international Jewish banking conspiracy.’” He also argues that because paper money is not backed by gold or silver, taxpayers are not obligated to pay their taxes because “Federal Reserve notes are not dollars.” In 1961, Porth files an income tax return that is blank except for a statement declaring that he is pleading the Fifth Amendment, essentially claiming that filling out a tax return violates his right of protection from self-incrimination, a scheme that quickly becomes popular among anti-tax protesters. Porth becomes an activist and garners something of a following among right-wing audiences, traveling around the country distributing tax protest literature that includes a book, A Manual for Those Who Think That They Must Pay an Income Tax. He even issues his own “arrest warrants” against “bureaucrats” whom, in his view, violate the Constitution. In 1967, Porth is convicted of a number of tax evasion charges, but, as the Anti-Defamation League will later write, “he had already become a grass-roots hero to the nascent tax protest movement.” His cause is championed by, among others, William Potter Gale, who will go on to found the racist, anti-government Posse Comitatus movement (see 1969). Gale uses the newsletter of his Ministry of Christ Church, a church espousing the racist and anti-Semitic theology of Christian Identity (see 1960s and After), to promote Porth and the early tax rebellion movement. Porth exhausts his appeals and goes to jail; though sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, he only serves 77 days. One of Porth’s most active followers is his lawyer, Jerome Daly, whose activism eventually leads to his disbarment (see December 9, 1968 and After). Daly meets Porth in 1965 and files his own “protest” tax return just days before Porth is indicted by a grand jury. Daly is also convicted of tax evasion; in 1969, a federal appeals court will issue a ruling invalidating what has by then become known as the “Porth-Daly Fifth Amendment Return.” Porth receives the support of several far-right organizations, many of whom tie their racist views into his anti-tax protests. In a 1967 article for the far-right American Mercury magazine, tax protester and editor Martin A. Larson writes, “The negroes in the United States are increasing at a rate at least twice as great as the rest of the population,” and warns that the tax burden posed by blacks “unquestionably doomed… the American way of life.” Larson will later write regular columns for the white supremacist magazine The Spotlight, in which he will call black women prostitutes whose “offspring run wild in the streets, free to forage their food in garbage cans, and grow up to become permanent reliefers, criminals, rioters, looters, and, in turn, breeders of huge litters of additional human beings belonging to the same category.” He will also write several books promoting Porth’s anti-tax protest strategies. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: William Potter Gale, Arthur Porth, Jerome Daly, Martin A. Larson, Southern Poverty Law Center, US Federal Reserve

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Arizona tax protester Marvin Cooley writes a best-selling book, The Big Bluff, documenting the struggles of his fellow anti-tax protester, W. Vaughn Ellsworth. Cooley, whose gruff tirades against the IRS and the federal government make him popular on the far-right speaking circuit—in 1971, he wrote to the IRS: “I will no longer pay for the destruction of my country, family, and self. Damn tyranny! Damn the Federal Reserve liars and thieves! Damn all pettifogging, oath-breaking US attorneys and judges.… I will see you all in Hell and shed my blood before I will be robbed of one more dollar to finance a national policy of treason, plunder, and corruption”—includes sample letters and copies of his own tax returns in his book. Among Cooley’s adherents is Robert Jay Mathews, who will go on to found the violent neo-Nazi group The Order (see Late September 1983). In 1970, the 17-year-old Mathews, still living with his parents in Phoenix, becomes a sergeant-at-arms for some of Cooley’s meetings. In 1973, Mathews will use Cooley’s income tax theories to fraudulently list 10 dependents on his W-4 tax form, a common protest tactic that winds up with Mathews convicted of tax fraud (see 1973). Cooley, a vocal proponent of tax protester Arthur Porth (see 1951-1967)‘s “Fifth Amendment Return” strategy (refusing to pay taxes on Fifth Amendment grounds) will go to jail for tax evasion in 1973 and again in 1989. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: Marvin Cooley, Arthur Porth, Internal Revenue Service, W. Vaughn Ellsworth, Robert Jay Mathews, US Federal Reserve

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Financial and insurance consultant Irwin Schiff uses the anti-tax arguments of Arthur Porth (see 1951-1967) and Marvin Cooley (see 1970-1972) to bring the anti-tax protest message to a much more mainstream audience than Porth, whose appeal was largely confined to right-wing and racist audiences. Schiff, who bills himself as “America’s leading untax expert,” will appear on national television for more than 25 years before eventually going to jail for tax evasion. His biggest impact comes with his 1976 book, The Biggest Con: How the Government is Fleecing You. His second book, published six years later, is called How Anyone Can Stop Paying Income Taxes. The Biggest Con earns him $135,000 in royalties over the two years that follow its publication, and $85,000 in royalties for the decade following. In 1978, Schiff is charged for failing to file tax returns, and eventually convicted; he will be convicted of similar charges in 1985 and again in 2005. He tells one judge: “I only received federal reserve units, not dollars. I received no lawful money upon which a tax can be collected.” The US government says Schiff owes over $2.6 million in back taxes, interest, and penalties. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Tax Protester Dossiers, 10/23/2010] In 1996, Schiff will be a candidate for the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president. [C-SPAN, 7/5/1996]

Entity Tags: Libertarian Party, Arthur Porth, Irwin Schiff, Marvin Cooley

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Former lawyers Jerome Daly and William Drexler, disbarred for their actions as anti-tax protesters in Minnesota (see December 9, 1968 and After), are sentenced to lengthy prison terms for founding and marketing fake churches (the Basic Bible Church and the Life Science Church) for the purpose of allowing people to avoid paying income taxes. Daly and Drexler are proponents of the popular “Fifth Amendment Return” that features citizens refusing to pay federal income taxes on Fifth Amendment grounds (see 1951-1967) and the idea that Federal Reserve paper notes are not legitimate currency because they cannot be redeemed “in specie”—a citizen cannot go to a bank and redeem a paper note for the note’s value in gold or silver. [Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: William Drexler, Basic Bible Church, Life Science Church, Jerome Daly

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The cover of the first volume of ‘The Law that Never Was.’The cover of the first volume of ‘The Law that Never Was.’ [Source: Radaris (.com) / Amazon (.com)]Two anti-tax protesters, William “Bill” Benson and Martin J. “Red” Beckman, publish a two-volume book, The Law that Never Was, that argues the 16th Amendment, the constitutional amendment giving the federal government the authority to levy income taxes, is null and void (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, and Early 1980s). The arguments in the book include the idea that because the amendment was ratified by different states with small differences in capitalization and punctuation, it was never properly ratified, as well as the argument that since Ohio was not yet a state when it ratified the amendment, Ohio’s ratification of the amendment renders it null. The authors include other arguments—the Internal Revenue Code is not “positive law”; the Internal Revenue Service is not a legitimate government agency; wages do not qualify as “taxable income”; “sovereign citizens” are exempt from income tax—all of which will be declared worthless and frivolous by various state and federal courts. The Anti-Defamation League will write that the arguments advanced by Benson and Beckman “are used again and again by tax protesters.… When a tax protest argument fails in court, the response among tax protesters is typically not to conclude that the argument was erroneous but rather to assume that the judge was wrong, corrupt, or deliberately misinterpreting the law.” Benson is a former investigator for the Illinois Internal Revenue Service, while Beckman is a virulent anti-Semite who accuses Jews of worshiping Satan and says the Holocaust was God’s “judgment upon a people who believe Satan is their god.” In 1991, Benson will be convicted of tax fraud and tax evasion, and will be sued by the US government to stop him from promoting an “abusive tax shelter” by selling what he calls a “Reliance Defense Package” while doing business as “Constitutional Research Associates.” In 2007, a federal court will find that his Reliance Defense Package “contained false or fraudulent information concerning tax advice,” and will note that a circuit court “explicitly rejected Benson’s arguments that the Sixteenth Amendment was not properly ratified.” Benson’s work will frequently be cited by tax protesters, many of whom will be fined or convicted for relying on his claims. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Tax Protester Dossiers, 11/30/2009; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: William (“Bill”) Benson, Constitutional Research Associates, Anti-Defamation League, Internal Revenue Service, Martin J. (“Red”) Beckman

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former federal judge and a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s broadcast, says: “How about floating a constitutional amendment amongst the states? Let’s rescind the 16th Amendment. That’s the income tax. If 25, 30 states start thinking about it and talking about it seriously, the Congress will take note because they will be scared to death it will starve them out of existence. And they won’t be able to regulate progressively or retrogressively how we live.” [Media Matters, 9/7/2010] The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for its repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see April 28, 1999). [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Andrew Napolitano, Glenn Beck

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former federal judge and a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s broadcast, advocates repealing the 16th Amendment, something he has done previously on Beck’s show (see April 28, 2009). Beck asks about “this solution that you and I have talked about on a constitutional amendment, or a threat of a constitutional amendment.” Napolitano replies: “If two-thirds of the states ask the Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider the adoption of this amendment, which I’ll describe in a moment, as it gets closer and closer to the two-thirds necessary and Congress would be required to call the convention, you’ll see some reaction on the part of Congress to attempt to placate the states that want to call this. Now, the constitutional amendment is a simple one. It simply abolishes the 16th Amendment and states affirmatively that Congress shall have no power to tax the personal incomes of individual persons. If that were enacted, it would starve the federal government back into the original footprint that the founders intended for it. But as it gets closer to enactment, Congress will have to do something for fear that it might be enacted.” [Glenn Beck, 5/6/2009; Media Matters, 9/7/2010] The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for its repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see April 28, 1999). [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Glenn Beck, Andrew Napolitano, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

Former Govenor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), a Fox News host and a presumed 2012 presidential candidate, calls the passage of the 17th Amendment “one of the dumbest things we ever did in this country.” Huckabee, appearing as a guest on Fox News Radio’s Brian & the Judge, also says that Republicans should consider calling for the repeal of the 16th Amendment, saying, “I think we ought to talk about repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the IRS.” He then says that Americans should “talk about—this is one of those things that senators would never agree, but one of the dumbest things we ever did in this country was the 17th Amendment.” He adds: “The original Constitution and the way we operated for the first 120 years of our existence, senators were appointed by state legislators to represent the broader interests of the states to make sure the federal government didn’t take too much power into itself. And most people don’t even remember that. But we have had an increasing problem of too much centralization of federal power at the expense of local and state governments—the antithesis of our Constitution—because we’ve put all this power in the popular election of senators and representatives.” [Media Matters, 10/16/2009] The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. The 17th Amendment provides for the direct election of US senators, rather than their selection by state legislators, in part to eliminate cronyism and corruption in their ascension to the US Capitol. It was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for their repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see 1951-1967 and April 28, 1999). [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute, 2011; Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Mike Huckabee, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

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