Joseph Stack is accused of ramming a plane into a building housing the U.S. tax service in Texas, but his views on taxation follow a long line of protesters who believe tax laws don't apply to them. While their numbers aren't large, according to experts, their arguments are so enticing that the Internal Revenue Service has published a guide to debunk their claims.
In 2008, the Justice Department was concerned enough to start the ''National Tax Defier Initiative'' to better co-ordinate prosecutions. ''You would think a little light bulb would go on in their head and they would say, 'Why in the heck is everybody else paying taxes?''' said Peter R. Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who is now a litigation partner at the law firm DLA Piper in Washington. ''There are people who are peddling this stuff. It's a way to get people to believe something that's too good to be true.''
A 3,000-word manifesto posted on a Web site registered in Stack's name rails against the IRS and accuses the agency of ruining his life. Stack's bitter feud with the IRS apparently drove him to commit suicide last Thursday by slamming his single-engine Piper PA-28 into an Austin office building where the IRS has offices.
Stack's writings suggest he was part of a loosely organized movement that stretches back to at least the 1950s. Some believe the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes Congress to levy income taxes, was not legally ratified; it was ratified in 1913. Others believe that paying taxes is purely voluntary. Still others believe in fictional loopholes that would exempt large groups of Americans from paying taxes if they were only in on the secret. ''Most of us are respectfully fearful of the IRS. Most people understand their authority,'' said Matthew J. Campione, a former IRS lawyer who is now a tax law specialist at the law firm of SmolenPlevy in Vienna, Virginia. ''But you have people who are gullible, you have people who engage in wishful thinking, you have some people who are struggling to make ends meet.''