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This is the second in what may prove to be a series featuring questions posed by those generally slandered as “right wing nut jobs.” (RWNJs) The mysterious and questionable income tax is our focus. Tax honesty advocates, Ed and Elaine Brown of New Hampshire, provide our inspiration.

The Browns are holed up in their New Hampshire home awaiting arrest by the feds. They have vowed to resist arrest, violently if necessary, if they don’t get a fair trial in their income tax evasion case.

Look for the feds to make a move late in tax terror season, sometime just before the citizens of the land-of-the-free line up for shearing on April 15. There’s nothing like CNN footage of a SWAT team trampling the daisies to keep the sheep grazing quietly.

The Browns have offered the deed to their office building in New Hampshire to anyone who can show them the law that makes them personally liable for income taxes. No takers yet. They say the place is worth a million bucks. The feds have declined to show them the law; they are working on confiscating the building without it.

One would think that formal charges of income tax evasion would include clear language about exactly what law you had broken. But one would be wrong.

Income tax evasion is prosecuted under 26 USC 7201. It’s a short section. I’ll quote the whole thing for you here. (There are also variations on the theme in secs. 7202-6.)

Any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax imposed by this title or the payment thereof shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.

This law tells us the bad that is the fate of tax evaders. You will notice, however, that it does not itself impose a tax or any legal obligation. Section 7201 is a penalty statute. Because penalty statutes impose no duties, they are laws that cannot be broken. Never the less, this penalty statute is the only tax law the Browns or any one accused of tax evasion sees on an indictment.

The Browns pointed this out to the judge in their first motion to dismiss their case. Understandably they wanted to know what law they had violated so they could defend themselves. They made a few other points in their motion as well, noting that their indictment had taken place without some important steps that are legally required in criminal prosecutions. They had never received notice of the grand jury’s investigation, for instance, nor was there ever a sworn complaint made to begin the investigation. None of that bothered the judge. 

But what they really wanted to know, and would still like to know, is just what law they violated to become felons. The judge never told them and never required the prosecution to tell them. He dismissed their motion, and every one of the 41 others they made during the trial. He generally offered no reasons for his dismissals. The judge did not allow the Browns to mention to the jury anything about their motions or his rejection of them.

Eventually Ed Brown refused further participation in the sham. He just went home. His wife stuck around for her conviction. While awaiting sentencing she joined Ed against the judge’s orders.

The Browns’ apparent willingness to die for the answer to a legal question highlights once again the peculiar nature of the income tax and another of the many reasons it has generated such resistance from RWNJ’s who are so hung up on the rule of law. 

Congress has shown it can write laws clearly if it wants to. There are hundreds of other federal tax laws. There is no doubt about who is liable for them. You don’t see liquor distributors hollering “show me the law” and barricading themselves in their warehouses. You never hear about cigarette makers vowing to fight to the death or until they see the law that taxes tobacco. Likewise with taxes on everything from gasoline to phone calls there’s no doubt about who pays.

But in the case of the income tax, no such clarity exists. There are a lot of people who would like to see the answer to the Browns’ question. Years of propaganda, scary IRS stories, and public education has worked its magic however.

Those bold enough to say “show me” are small in number and have been effectively marginalized as RWNJs. They deserve our admiration more than our slander, and deserve to be shown clear, easily understood law if there is any. Following laws that need expert interpretation is no different than obeying a guy in feathered head gear who reads your orders in a bowl of bones.

As of this writing the Browns are still waiting for the government to either show them the law that places a tax on their privately earned income or to shoot them for asking to see it. That’s our government’s idea of a tough choice.


Hi, I'm from the IRS.

I'm here to explain the code.