Ralph DiGia Fund for Peace & JusticeIllusStainGlass

Keeping Alive the Flame of Resistance

It was in 1956, after first beginning to work with the War Resisters League, that I began to refuse part of my Federal income taxes to protest my money being used to build weapons of death and destruction. I had been imprisoned in World War II for refusing induction into the army and sought some personal way to continue to tell the government that / would not cooperate with their war machine. I didn’t, and don’t now believe that my refusal would seriously interfere with the military program of the United States. But I do believe that it is important to continue the protest in the hope that one day the movement will blossom full-grown into a movement which will help eliminate militarism.

In my experience with IRS agents, I didn’t find a lot of hostility. Most were just “doing their job.” There was the case of one agent who had only two years to go before retiring and explained that he was looking forward to that day. He asked me to give him a break and tell him where my bank account was so he wouldn’t have to drag his tired body around trying to find out where it was. Poor fellow!

There was another fellow (a World War II veteran) who always addressed me as Ralph. You’re never sure whether an agent is really friendly or if it is a way of making it difficult for you to refuse to cooperate. Anyway, he kept after me trying to collect a few dollars of unpaid telephone taxes (these days in most cases the IRS does not pursue phone tax refusers but will deduct the taxes owed from any refunds due on income taxes). This agent went to the super in my building to ask if I paid my rent by check and if so what was the name of the bank. Loyal to me, the super said I paid by cash though I actually paid by check. He figured that I was trying to get away with cheating the government, an idea he certainly agreed with. When I told him I was refusing to pay and that the amount was only $2.29, he couldn’t believe that the agent had actually spent so much time going after such small fry. Sometime later, the agent, still trying to collect, said “Ralph, you have made your point and the amount is so small. Why don’t you pay it and I can close the case.” I then asked him why the IRS was spending so much time and money trying to collect such a small sum. “It’s a matter of principle,” he said. I told him he had answered the question he had asked me. Finally he did locate a bank account and put a levy on it for $3.44. There was only $1.54 in it. He finally closed the case.

In 1977 the IRS put a levy on my bank account for several years of unpaid taxes. Surprisingly, this bank refused to honor the levy since it was a joint account with my wife. The account was frozen pending further action. The IRS failed to pursue this course and in 1978 they put a levy on my WRL salary for years 1971, 1972,1974 and 1975 (1973 got lost in the shuffle). Because WRL has a policy of refusing to honor IRS levies, the WRL was summoned to US District Court to show cause why it should not be required to honor the levy. After hearing both sides, the Court ruled on December 1979 that it did not “challenge the sincerity of the defendant’s professed opposition to war … The only issue for decision is a legal one – does the defendant have a Constitutional right to refuse taxes because of religious objection to one of the myriad uses to which revenue is put. On this issue, the Government is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In January 1980 the Court issued a Notice of Settlement and Judgment which WRL refused to sign. In April 1981 the WRL was summoned to appear before the IRS with documents listing WRL assets. Again WRL did not cooperate with this collection process. It was not until two years later in 1983 that the government finally seized $1,228.23 from WRL’s bank account.

Throughout the years I moved my bank account around to make it more difficult for the IRS to collect. In 1989 I went from full time work with WRL to part time. Thisreduced my taxable income to the level where I became eligible for the Earned Income Credit provision. So, in a sense, I feel the government is returning to me some of the money it seized earlier.

Some people question the value of refusing to pay taxes since the Government usually finally collects them anyway. Yes, they get the money, but they don’t kill the idea. Though the IRS may not be concerned about the money, it is certainly concerned about the idea of “saying no” catching on. The fact that in recent years the government has imposed fines for taking “frivolous” deductions indicates it is concerned about war tax resistance. Yes, they get the money, but so long as it spreads the idea to more people, refusing to pay taxes for war means something. The government won’t go bankrupt because of it, but it is important in keeping the spirit of resistance alive.

Questioning the value of resisting war taxes because it isn’t achieving its objective can be likened to questioning draft resistance because it hasn’t achieved the goal of stopping the military. We are still a minority movement and we must continue in every way possible to keep alive the flame of resistance to militarism.

Written by , updated 11/3/08

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