Who Bankrolled Falluja
War Tax Resisters Opt Out - Greg Moses
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
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
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
"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."
Thad Crouch, Paula
Rogge, and Susan Van Haitsma - photograph
by Gregory Selig, The Austin Chronicle
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
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
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
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 Falluja-Euphrates
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.