At a D.C.-area conference sponsored by the antigovernment, tax-protest extremist group We the People, the 'Patriot' movement proves it still has legs.
CRYSTAL CITY, Va. -- In an auditorium buried deep in the tunnels that run for miles underneath this Washington suburb, We The People's first annual conference was one of the largest antigovernment gatherings in recent memory.
In a scene reminiscent of the mid-1990s, when the antigovernment "Patriot" movement reached its apex, fiery orators spoke to some 350 people from a stage sporting an upside-down American flag with its gold fringe removed — meaning, in the bizarre parlance of the movement, that it is not an "admiralty" flag that could give the federal government jurisdiction over freedom-loving Patriots.
Out front, vendors peddled everything from weeklong seminars on how to become "sovereign" citizens who owe nothing to the government, to programs for "Ending Patriot Poverty!"
Held in January to celebrate lawsuits filed by We the People to challenge the constitutionality of the IRS, the conference was hosted by group founder Bob Schulz, a 64-year-old tax protester from Queensbury, N.Y. Schulz is a celebrity in Patriot circles for his months-long hunger strike last year against the IRS.
The focus inside the auditorium was on the myriad evils wrought by the federal government, from gun control to taxes to judicial tyranny. The complaints came from a remarkable array of people, from anti-Semites to conspiracy mongers to white supremacists and even right-wing Republicans, some of whom ducked in from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) featuring Vice President Dick Cheney and held just around the corner in another hotel.
They came from the likes of Holocaust denier Hutton Gibson, father of the actor Mel Gibson; Sam Francis, who edits the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens' tabloid; Joseph Farah, who owns a far-right publishing empire including the World Net Daily Web news service; and more mainstream conservatives such as Angela "Bay" Buchanan, who ran her brother Pat's presidential campaigns and now works for CNN.
The conference was a high-tech extravaganza, with the entire event simulcast on the Web and on a massive screen that also featured snippets of patriotic John Wayne speeches and emotional scenes from Gibson's movie "Braveheart."
Screens simulcasting the conference were also found at two We the People booths at the nearby CPAC conference, which shared speakers including former U.N. ambassador Alan Keyes with the We the People program. (Others who participated in both conferences included Bernard von NotHaus, who had a booth at the CPAC conference where he sold his alternative "American Liberty Currency.")
They Say They Want a Revolution
The We the People hall resounded with calls for revolution.
Peter Mancus, a Second Amendment attorney from California, spelled out just what would cause him to revolt. But before his speech, Mancus was overcome by emotion, weeping over the "Braveheart" scene where William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, asks his fellow Scotsmen whether they wanted to live on their knees or die on their feet.
After pleading for a moment to regain his composure, Mancus straightened up and launched into a heated antigovernment tirade.
"If they confiscate the guns, I think there will be war. And I hope there will be war instead of letting it happen," bellowed Mancus. "I want to leave this world without killing someone, but I have a bottom line."
"Don't forget," he added darkly, "the government's agents are afraid of dying, too."
Many others speakers and participants at the We the People conference expressed support for revolution, including bloodletting if necessary. Even Bay Buchanan, who said she had earlier spoken to a group at the nearby CPAC conference, gave a fire-breathing talk nearly as heated as Mancus'.
She described a dark future in which Americans will be "forced into a New World Order" and, to a standing ovation, attacked the Bush Administration's immigration and economic policies.
"They took the jobs and sent them overseas and now they're bringing [immigrants] here to take our jobs. Who takes care of us?" Buchanan demanded. "I believe we must have a revolution. Hopefully, it will be a bloodless one.
"This is not about Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives. This is about America — or this is the end."
Also seething with anger was Joseph Farah, who in addition to World Net Daily owns Whistleblower magazine and hosts a daily talk radio program. Farah, who was particularly enraged that Publisher's Weekly had recently labeled him an "extremist," told his audience that all Americans "live in some degree of fear of their government," paying an illegal "slave tax" to the IRS only at "the end of a gun barrel."
"If government perpetuates evil, you must resist," Farah said.
Another popular target at the conference was what was variously termed "evil bankers," "banksters," the "banking class" or "the Rothschilds" — bankers, it was angrily alleged, who are perpetrating a fraud against the American people.
Special ire was directed at the Federal Reserve, which Schulz, in common with tens of thousands of other Patriots, believes is an illegal private cartel secretly owned by a small group of greedy bankers.
"Jesus called those who own the money the money changers," explained Bill Still, producer of "The Money Masters," a Federal Reserve-bashing video. "And Jesus' only violent act was to throw out the money changers."
The sheer repetition of "banksters" — a term made popular by the Jew-hating Posse Comitatus during the 1980s — made it hard not to be reminded of complaints about "Jewish bankers" so common in anti-Semitic circles.
And it didn't help that the hands-down star of the show was the elderly Hutton Gibson, an anti-Semite who a few weeks after the We the People conference would give a radio interview claiming that the Nazi death camps were work camps, Jews are seeking "one-world government," "the Jew" is "anti-everyone else," and that Holocaust remembrance is "a gimmick to collect money."
At the conference, Gibson wowed his audience with a fast-paced diatribe against "an alliance of the government and the banks" that is leading us to "the New World Order and one-world government." Gibson suggested that Americans "secede and kick the feds out."
His talk was met with several minutes of "Hutton for President" chanting, after which Schulz invited Gibson to join We The People's advisory board.
Protesters, Prison and Prospects
Schulz has long argued that the IRS is an illegal entity. For five years, We The People has been peddling various pseudo-legal arguments through its web site, givemeliberty.org, and in other venues. The group falsely claims that income taxes already have been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court.
Schulz handed out various forms and manuals filled with inscrutable writings that supposedly decode the secrets that allow one not to pay taxes.
For Schulz, not paying taxes isn't about the money: Patriots need to withhold their taxes because the government has failed to respect the people's rights. Just before the conference, Schulz filed what he calls a "much-anticipated Right-to-Petition class-action lawsuit."
The suit aims to "secure redress in response to government infringement and abuse regarding firearms related Rights, due process Rights, judicial/prosecutorial abuse, the income tax fraud, abuses under the 'USA Patriot Act' and the monetary/banking fraud of the Federal Reserve."
Schulz' theory, which he detailed several times during the conference, is that if the government doesn't respond to these petitions (he never said in what way), Americans need not pay their taxes.
"If the servant is taking over the house," Schulz explained, "then we must starve the servant government."
We The People apparently has the financial means to pursue its legal theories. In the past, it has run several expensive full-page ads in USA Today, and at the conference, Schulz handed the group's attorney Mark Lane (also known as a leading Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist) a check for $100,000.
But finding clients may be harder. When Lane, formerly the attorney of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby, asked audience members to sign on to the suit, several said that they were afraid they would lose their "sovereign status" if they deigned to be represented by a lawyer.
Ultimately, even at this conference hosted by a leading tax protester, not everyone was convinced that they could really stop paying taxes without suffering repercussions. It didn't help that Vernice Cooglin, a FedEx pilot who was charged with seven counts of tax evasion a few years ago, had been acquitted in her criminal case but was facing serious civil charges.
In addition, the "tax honesty" movement's hero, Dick Simkanin, a Dallas businessman who has refused for years to withhold taxes from his employees' paychecks, pleaded guilty in October to a felony tax charge after a jury deadlocked during his first trial. (He is now awaiting sentencing.)
In addition, the IRS initiated a crackdown in September on those following the type of advice peddled by We The People. Even Schulz pointed out that the odds for those who decide to fight are getting longer, in particular because "the ranks of attorneys representing the tax movement that have not been sanctioned is thin."
This led several audience members to query Schulz about what to do in the event the IRS was to come after them. But Schulz was dismissive of their fears. "There are 125 cases that I brought pro se and I know how to defend myself. And I will not be spending any time in prison," he boasted defiantly.
We The People plans return to Crystal City next year and evaluate the government's response to its cases. And violence remains an option if We The People does not receive satisfaction from the government.
"I agree that it may come to violence," Schultz told the crowd, "but we hope that it won't."