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Profile: Marvin Cooley

Marvin Cooley was a participant or observer in the following events:

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)

Robert Jay Mathews, a young conservative and resistance-movement organizer living in Phoenix, Arizona, is arrested for submitting fraudulent income tax returns. Mathews, who has read a recently published book, The Big Bluff by anti-tax protester Marvin Cooley (see 1970-1972) and served as sergeant-at arms for some of Cooley’s meetings in Phoenix, does not believe the US government has the right to compel him to pay taxes. Mathews uses Cooley’s income-tax theories to fraudulently list ten dependents on his W-4 tax form, a common protest tactic that backfires when tax assessors realize that a 20-year old unmarried man is unlikely to have so many dependents. Mathews is convicted of misdemeanor tax fraud; he is given six months’ probation and warned if he commits tax fraud again, he will be charged with felony tax evasion. (Southern Poverty Law Center 12/2001; McClary 12/6/2006; Anti-Defamation League 2011) Mathews will go on to found The Order, one of the most violent anti-government organizations in modern US history (see Late September 1983). He will die during a 1984 standoff with FBI agents (see December 8, 1984).

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)


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