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Israel’s Genocide in Gaza Is Provoking Tax Resistance in the US

As April 15 approaches, antiwar groups are responding to a surge of interest in tax resistance as a form of protest.

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In light of the United States’ continued financial support for Israel amid its ongoing genocide in Gaza, antiwar organizations say they’ve received a surge of interest from U.S. taxpayers considering tax resistance as a form of protest.

“The office has received more calls and emails and orders for war tax resistance materials than in years,” Ruth Benn, an organizer with the War Resisters League, tells Truthout.

Founded in the aftermath of forced enlistment during World War I, the War Resisters League is under an umbrella of organizations that belong to the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), which educates taxpayers across the United States about the reality of military funding and various methods of resistance.

As the April 15 deadline for filing annual income tax returns approaches, the War Resisters League and NWTRCC say they’re seeing a spike in traffic to their online resources, calls and correspondence for more information, orders for educational material and requests for guided workshops on tax resistance.

“I Felt Morally Compelled”

One of the many activists engaging in tax resistance because of U.S. support for the genocide in Gaza is Paul Stretch, a social worker in Portland, Oregon.

Stretch first engaged in tax resistance decades ago, after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down outside of a chapel in El Salvador in 1980, likely due to his opposition to the U.S.-backed military junta which had taken control of the country the previous year. The assassination shocked people around the world, including Stretch, who decided to protest the United States’ support for the junta by refusing to pay the federal taxes due on his home telephone line.

“War tax resistance means refusing to pay some or all of the federal taxes that pay for war.”

As U.S. support for the junta persisted through the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Stretch and his wife refused greater portions of their federal taxes, redirecting the amounts due to local nonprofits caring for their neighbors. After their tax debt ballooned to thousands of dollars, the IRS began garnishing his wife’s wages, forcing them to give up their tax resistance — until last year.

“I felt morally compelled to begin engaging in war tax resistance once again when Israel invaded Gaza and systematically began killing the Palestinian populace,” he tells Truthout.

Stretch isn’t alone. As the United States continues to finance the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza — which has claimed the lives of at least 33,175 Palestinians, including more than 13,000 children and 8,400 women, according to Al Jazeera at the time of this writing — antiwar organizations are reporting increasing interest in war tax resistance from former resisters like Stretch and first-timers as well.

“I Have Never Been to Court”

Each year, the United States provides Israel with $3.8 billion in military funding, according to “Not My Tax Dollars,” a project by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights which advocates redirecting those funds to domestic needs, like health care, housing and education. Although the initiative makes clear what $3.8 billion might otherwise pay for — health care for more than 1 million children, housing for more than 450,000 families, salaries for more than 41,000 teachers — it’s much more difficult to pin down where all of that money actually comes from.

“There is no single tax that is used to pay for war, but the military takes about half of anyone’s tax dollar,” says Benn. “So for many of us, the focus is on federal income taxes and refusing to pay some or all of whatever is owed on April 15.”

“War tax resistance means refusing to pay some or all of the federal taxes that pay for war,” Lincoln Rice, coordinator for NWTRCC, tells Truthout. “While you can refuse income tax legally by lowering your taxable income, for many people, war tax resistance involves civil disobedience.”

War tax resistance typically takes one of two forms, as Rice explains. The first, technically legal method of resisting war taxes is for the taxpayer to intentionally lower their income below the taxable threshold, which varies by age and filing status (single, married, head of household). For example, a single adult under the age of 65 does not have to file a tax return — and therefore pay federal income tax — if they earn less than $12,950 a year, according to the IRS. The amount of tax due may also be lowered by various deductions, such as number of dependents.

The other form of war tax resistance is the deliberate withholding of all or a portion of taxes due, often accompanied with a letter of both admission and explanation to the IRS. In such cases, it is also common for war tax resisters to donate the amount of withheld taxes to a cause more in line with their beliefs. The historically pacifist Mennonite Church USA, for example, maintains a Church Peace Tax Fund to that end.

As a form of civil disobedience, deliberately withholding taxes may come with legal consequences, which typically involve fines, rather than imprisonment. According to Benn, the IRS will send a series of increasingly threatening collection letters, announcing its “intent to levy,” or garnish income or assets, around the third letter in the series. The agency will also add both penalties and interest to the overdue tax debt for up to 10 years, which is when the statute of limitations expire. In anticipation of potentially paying the debt, penalties and interest, some war tax resisters set aside, rather than donate, the withheld taxes. NWTRCC also maintains a War Tax Resistance Penalty Fund that resisters can also appeal to for financial assistance.

“The consequences range from fines to garnished wages and collections,” Nick Lancellotti and June Johnson, co-founders of We the People, an antiwar organization that advocates war tax resistance, tell Truthout. “To date, only a handful of war tax resisters have faced jail time, and that was usually as a result of fraud rather than resistance itself.”

“Tax resistance became important to me because I see this as an actionable form of protest against the funding of the genocide and wars in general.”

That distinction — jail time being reserved for fraud, or lying on tax returns, rather than openly refusing to pay taxes — is borne out by the experience of Cathy Deppe, a volunteer with NWTRCC and retired teacher in Los Angeles. Deppe began refusing to pay her federal phone tax in opposition to the Vietnam War and continued to resist other taxes until 2015, when she stopped filing her annual return altogether. Although the IRS garnished 50 percent of her Social Security benefits for eight years, she faced no other consequences.

“There was a verbal threat by the IRS agent who subpoenaed me to show up with all my financial records,” Deppe tells Truthout. “When I showed up without them and took the Fifth [invoked her freedom against self-incrimination], he said he would see me in court. I have never been to court. … I believe they have decided I am too much trouble and they are too understaffed.”

“Gaza Opened My Eyes”

While some long-time war tax resisters like Deppe never stopped and others like Stretch are returning to the fold, yet others are discovering tax resistance for the first time. Both antiwar organizations and new resisters themselves attribute the wave of interest in tax resistance to the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza.

“NWTRCC has been the most active on the issue in the last six months, with paid consultants dedicated to this organizing,” says Benn. “They have been doing online workshops and managing a rush of new interest on social media, which used to get a few ‘likes,’ but now gets hundreds or thousands of shares. The online organizing has been huge for this network.”

Newer antiwar organizations like We the People have also endorsed war tax resistance as a means of opposing the Israeli genocide in Gaza. In January, We the People announced “Tax Blackout,” a campaign in coordination with NWTRCC to encourage U.S. taxpayers to redirect at least 5 percent of their federal income taxes to local community organizations and charities in Gaza, such as Doctors Without Borders. In preparation for resistance beyond April 15, We the People is also encouraging taxpayers to maximize the deductions on their payroll taxes by, for example, updating Form W-4. (Per the IRS, Form W-4 is filed with employers to help calculate taxes withheld by employers from workers’ paychecks; workers can reduce these withholdings by updating their filing status, number of dependents and/or other adjustments on their W-4s.)

Efforts by We the People, NWTRCC, War Resisters League, and other antiwar groups are not only inspiring interest in war tax resistance, but real commitments too. Among the ranks of former war tax resisters like Stretch who are renewing their resistance in response to the Israeli genocide in Gaza, there are also first-timers like Jennifer Shin, a medical writer in Minnesota. Although Shin is not a member of any pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist organization, she is planning on participating in war tax resistance for the first time this year due to the ongoing genocide.

“I haven’t decided yet if I want to resist this year by either refusing to pay a small token amount or a larger portion of what I owe,” Shin tells Truthout. “Regardless of the amount, I also plan on sending a letter of protest with my tax form. As for the consequences, I anticipate receiving letters from the IRS or maybe penalty fees, but I am fine with that.”

“The genocide in Gaza opened my eyes to how financially capable the U.S. becomes when funding a genocide, but not when it comes to caring for its own citizens,” Shin continues. “Tax resistance became important to me because I see this as an actionable form of protest against the funding of the genocide and wars in general.”

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