Tracing the Opposition to Taxes in America

Behind the Curtain: Racism and Anti-Semitism Porth's actions excited and energized many on the radical right. Among those he inspired was Jerome Daly, a tax-protesting attorney from Minnesota who became Porth's lawyer and whose activism eventually led to his disbarment.

The two men met in 1965, the same year Daly filed his first protest return and just days before Porth was indicted by a federal grand jury. Like Porth, Daly was convicted of violating federal tax laws, and in 1969 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision invalidating what by then had become known as the "Porth-Daly Fifth Amendment Return."

By the summer of 1972, what had become known as the "Great Tax Strike" movement had grown enough to warrant a cover story and half of the 70 pages in the summer issue of the far-right American Mercury magazine.

Attacks on the income tax were often couched in vague antigovernment, pro-Constitution rhetoric, but anti-Semitism always played a large role in the conspiracy theories and arguments that reinforced the anti-tax message.

And sometimes that message was explicitly racist: "The Negroes in the United States are increasing at a rate at least twice as great as the rest of the population," warned the American Mercury in 1967, asserting that the tax burden posed by blacks "unquestionably doomed ... the American way of life."

The author of the article was Martin A. Larson, a contributing editor of the Mercury who chronicled the travails of tax protesters in two books: Tax Revolt: U.S.A.! Why and How Thousands of Patriotic Americans Refuse to Pay the Income Tax, published in 1973, and its sequel, The Continuing Tax Rebellion: What Millions of Americans are Doing to Restore Constitutional Government.

According to Larson, who later wrote a regular column on tax and money issues for the far-right newspaper The Spotlight, the majority of black women were 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."

A Magician Explains How to Fleece the Government
Larson praised A.J. Porth as "America's best-known and most active tax-rebel," but there were others who greatly contributed to the growth of the movement.

Unlike Porth, who made his pitch to thousands of Posse Comitatus activists and other gun-toting militants, men like Irwin Schiff spread the same message to millions of Americans who were much closer to the political mainstream.

Schiff, "America's leading untax expert," as he sometimes called himself, was a fast-talking insurance and financial consultant from Hamden, Conn., who parroted Porth's arguments about the Fifth Amendment and how paper money invalidated the income tax.

"I only received federal reserve units, not dollars," he once told a judge. "I received no lawful money upon which a tax can be collected."

In addition to his talents as an amateur magician, Schiff skillfully exploited the broadcast media's obsession with controversial content. His appearances on network television shows and radio broadcasts over the past 25 years have reached a huge national audience.

In 1976, Schiff, then 47, wrote The Biggest Con: How the Government is Fleecing You. His second book, published six years later, was called How Anyone Can Stop Paying Income Taxes and earned him at least $135,000 in royalties over the next two years and another $85,000 in the decade that followed.

Schiff authored six other books, including his most recent, The Federal Mafia and How It Operates, which he wrote while in federal prison on tax charges.

In Nashville, an Ad Man Creates 'Money' for Tax Rebels
Another equally colorful and prominent promoter of tax resistance was Frederick "Tupper" Saussy III, author of the popular tax protest book, Miracle on Main Street. At just 160 pages, the slim volume sold 100,000 copies from 1980 to 1982.

Saussy was a musician, songwriter, artist and local celebrity from Nashville, Tenn., who applied his talents as the composer of advertising jingles to market both his book and a new kind of phony checkbook money that he invented for tax protesters to pay their debts.

Called "Public Office Money Certificates," Saussy claimed the worthless paper was "redeemable in dollars of the money of account of the United States upon an official determination of the substance of the money of account."

Others copied the concept, especially Posse activists in the Midwest who conned farmers into believing that similar fake financial instruments could rescue them from debt during the agricultural crisis of the 1980s.

Saussy was convicted of tax evasion in 1985 (and later became a federal fugitive), but he also gained right-wing notoriety for publishing Tennessee Waltz, the autobiography of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saussy's magnetic personality may have charmed audiences into embracing tax protest, but Arizona patriot Marvin Cooley's gruff demeanor was equally convincing.

"I will no longer pay for the destruction of my country, family, and self," he wrote the IRS in 1971. "Damn tyranny! Damn the Federal Reserve liars and thieves! Damn all pettifogging, oath-breaking U.S. 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."

Cooley had little formal education, but he, too, wrote a right-wing bestseller: The Big Bluff. This 1972 book, which described the struggles of his fellow tax protestor, W. Vaughn Ellsworth, and contained sample letters and copies of Cooley's tax returns, placed him in high demand on the far-right speaking circuit.

Cooley's seminars were well attended but he, like Saussy, Porth and the others, would eventually go to prison for tax evasion, in 1973 and again in 1989.