Tax resisters refuse to pay for U.S. war
By DANIEL BARLOW Southern Vermont Bureau | April 17,2006
BRATTLEBORO — Shortly before performing the Good Friday service last week, the Rev. Thaddeus Bennett wrote a letter to the Internal Revenue Service explaining why, once again, he only was paying 51 percent of his federal taxes.
For 25 years, Bennett, a Newfane resident and pastor of St. Mary's in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Wilmington, hasn't paid the part of his federal income taxes equal to the military portion of the federal government's budget.
"I always find it strange that tax time comes during such a holy week," he said last week. "But I cannot morally support the military portion of the federal budget with my taxes."
Bennett started the practice soon after he was ordained in the early 1980s, and said he sees the practice as a natural offspring of his Christian beliefs and his activist nature. He said he finds inspiration from Jesus when he said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."
"I still have my soul," Bennett said. "I still have my conscience."
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, a national coalition of peace workers who organized in 1982, estimate there are about 10,000 people in the United States who use tax resistance as a form of civil disobedience.
Most refuse to pay the portion of the taxes that equals the federal military budget — estimated by activists this year to be 49 percent of the total budget — and then donate the additional funds to local nonprofit groups or social service programs they support.
On Saturday, seven war tax resisters from Windham County donated nearly $5,000 to seven area groups, including Morningside Shelter, the Women's Crisis Center, Citizens Awareness Network and a community garden project.
"We're trying to fund things that our tax dollars ought to be funding," said Ellen Kaye of Brattleboro, a war tax resister since 1988. "I would rather have my money go to soup kitchens than to buy land mines for use in El Salvador."
Two years ago Luise,, a 58-year-old Brattleboro resident, saw a documentary on the United States' role in training death squads in Latin America in the 1980s. That information was enough to convince the lifelong peace activist she had to do something.
So she sold her house and moved into a small apartment and traded in her full-time job for a part-time job that pays below the taxable threshold. Luise, who asked that her last name not be used, said she lives frugally to get by.
"I wanted to do this legitimately, so I changed my life to a point where I don't make enough money to pay taxes," she said. "I had to do something because I could not continue supporting that."
Tax resistance is a lifestyle change for many, according to Daniel Sicken, a Dummerston resident who stopped paying in the early 1980s. Some resisters keep their income low while others become self-employed, overstate their allowances or perform only contracted work, he said.
"You can't really live a middle-class life and do it," he said. "There's that fear factor that may be stopping more people from this lifestyle."
Some war tax resisters who don't pay their full share to the federal government end up facing serious sanctions. Bennett said the government has garnished his wages and taken money from his savings account.
Bob Bady, Kaye's partner, had his home in Massachusetts taken from him in 1989. The government placed a lien on the property, he said, and then it was bought up at the subsequent auction.
But Bady said he has never regretted his decision to stop paying the federal taxes he made as a young man protesting the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. He said he has never felt victimized or downtrodden.
"I decided one day that if I wasn't going to put my own body on the line, why would I pay someone else to do it," said Bady, explaining how his protests against the draft steamrolled into a larger protest against the military industrial complex.
A call to the IRS office in Brattleboro for comment was not returned last week.
Contact Daniel Barlow at email@example.com.