Conversations with the I.R.S.

Here is a transcript, in sequence, of three conversations I had with Thomas C. Rose of the Internal Revenue Service that took place after he dropped a small notice through my door slot on the afternoon of March 11, 1991. The notice simply requested that I contact him.

This is the only occasion on which I received any direct, personal contact from the I.R.S. after thirteen years of nonfiling and nonpayment of income taxes. Refusal to pay Federal taxes is my chosen form of war tax resistance as a pacifist.

When I saw the notice, I anticipated that it was not in connection with my income taxes, but instead had something to do with my Federal phone tax resistance of eight months. This seemed logical, since I'd recently discussed the war tax levied on long distance usage with a service representative at Pacific Bell telephone company (who, surprisingly called to confirm receipt of my phone tax refusal letters).

I understood, however, the possibility that the I.R.S. had finally caught up with my years of income tax noncooperation. Since 1977, my first year as an adult member of the work force, I have not paid any Federal income taxes, nor have I had anything withheld. I've declared myself EXEMPT on my w-4 forms any year I was employed by a company, an option available if you believe you will not owe any taxes in the current year and did not owe any the previous year, as I recall.

It appears I am what they call "uncollectible," even by liens and levies, as I have little money, no car or house and nothing else of value to them. [Whether for this reason or some other which I can't guess, I never did hear from the I.R.S. again, after this 1991 contact.]

One last note: just before these conversations, I saw an article in the paper about the I.R.S. cutting costs by going after medium and low income people, since poorer folks rarely hire a lawyer and fight for a better deal the way rich folks do.

1st phone conversation

March 12, 1991

Good morning. Internal Revenue. Doris Speaking

Yes, hello. May I speak with Thomas Rose, please?

One moment.

Thank you.

Hello. Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Rose speaking.

Hello Mr. Rose. My name is Joel Pomerantz. I received a note through my door saying that I ought to call you. So, I'm calling to inquire what it's about.

Well, you've been selected, among many others in the Bay Area, for a program that we have, called Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program. And I need to do an interview with you. And also, do you have any unfiled returns?

Can I ask how the selection process was done?

Computer, through Martinsburg, Virginia. And it probably looks at income sources, globally—I'm not sure.

Okay. So, is this a new program?

It's been a program that's been ongoing in several phases for several years. But, it's a new one for my particular division: Collection.

Oh, I see. So...

But I need to schedule an appointment with you. To see you.

Okay. Is it a voluntary program?

Your responses are voluntary, but, no, it's not terribly voluntary. You can refuse to answer any questions, or give me any information.

So, are you expecting a telephone interview?

This would be in person, sir.

At my residence, or—?

It could be at your residence, or you could come in the office. Either way.

Oh, I see. And what time period are we talking about?

I'd like to do it in the next week or so. It's not a heavy interview, as far as that goes. It probably takes about twenty minutes.

Okay. And what use will the information be put to?

Probably, well, I can only surmise, but we have a (long pause) kind of like a grading score of potential inquiries for taxpayers. We show that—where you had income and you didn't file the next year. And it could be you didn't have income then. Are you a student?

Not at the moment, no.

Well, it might've been because you were a student at that time.

Do you off-hand know what year that was?

I can look. Can I verify your Social Security Number, sir?

Uh, fine, yeah.

Uh, could you give me it?

Oh, you don't have it on file?

Yes, I have it. You don't have it memorized?

Oh, I don't have it memorized, no.

Yeah, okay. But you do live at 2128 Hayes Street—is that correct?

That's right.

Joel David?

That's me.

Alright. I just want to be sure I'm dealing with the right taxpayer, here.


I don't doubt it. And 19—we show you had about 12,000 dollars income, let's see what year this is... 1988. They're wages. Did you file a tax return that year?

Mmm, I think I know what happened that year. I didn't, no.

Okay, I'll need to secure a return, if one is due. And I can assist you with that, as far as that goes.

Okay. As far as you're aware, is there any distinguishing factor in the people who were picked for this program?

No, overall? I don't think so. They're all various factors. Some are on Social Security Administration income. The only distinguishing factor, if there is one, is, it's modest amounts of income. And then probably, where taxpayers, if you're a student in that year or something.

(pause) Okay. I'd like to give you a call to set up an appointment a little later.

Uh, could I have your phone number, sir?

Well, I'm really hard to reach and I'd rather not give it to you at this point, so I'll set up an appointment with you, but I'd like to get my schedule figured out somewhat.

Well, can we make a tentative appointment? (sounding very hopeful) I can see you at your place.

Well, I'd rather make a tentative appointment when I call back. Are you in nine to three every day?

No, I'm not. I'm in the field many days.

Okay, well, in the next three days, which are good days to reach you at the office?

Well, reach me before ten o'clock in the office on any of those days.

Okay, that makes it easy.

Alright. I will need to see you though.

I understand that. Okay. Thanks for speaking with me.

Okay, Mr. Pomerantz. Thank you.

Bye bye.

March 13, 1991

Good morning. Internal Revenue.

Yes. Is Mr. Rose available now?

Okay, one moment. Let me transfer it.

Good morning. Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Rose speaking.

Yes. Hello. This is Joel Pomerantz and I spoke with you yesterday, and I wanted to set up a time for getting together next week.

Ah! Thank you for calling, Mr. Pomerantz. Sure. What day would be convenient for you?

Is Tuesday a possibility, in the afternoon?



How late?

Actually, I'm flexible as to time.

How about three?

Okay. Room 3209? (reading from his calling card)

I could see you at your place, if you want.

That's okay, I'll come by there.

Okay. Then, room 3209. In the Federal Building, 450 Golden Gate.

At three p.m.

Yes. If you have information so that we can file 1988 taxes, like w-2's and so on, I can prepare them with you at the office.

Okay. Well, I'll bring what I think is necessary there.

Okay. Have you filed 1989?

No, I haven't filed 1989.

Will you owe a tax return, sir?

That's a matter of opinion, I suppose, but uh—

Well, no it's not... (slight chuckle) We don't call it a matter of opinion. It's a matter of whether or not you have enough income to file.

Yeah, well, I would gladly speak with you about that one also, on Tuesday afternoon.

Okay, fine then. Three p.m. on the nineteenth.


Thank you Mr. Pomerantz.


Bye, now.

Bye bye.

March 19,1991

In-person interview at the I.R.S.

(It is hard for me to describe how slow and deliberate this conversation was—on both sides. I transcribed almost at the pace of the conversation, even with my hunt & peck typing style.)

Mr. Pomerantz?


Mr. Rose, revenue officer.

Hello. How're you doing today?

Pretty good. We can sit in here. Any chair. Sure that's fine. Did you get caught in the rain?

No, I managed to stay inside during the few showers.

(We get comfortable. I pull out a 1040 form that's cut into a square and begin to fold it, slowly. Mr. Rose pretends not to notice.)

This is your taxpayer bill of rights (hands me pamphlets) and you can look that over. If you have any questions about it, I can answer them. I'm in Collections. Revenue officer. Collections Enforcement. When you're dealing with the Collection Department, it shouldn't be overthreatening. You're dealing with tax returns and taxes. That's basic rights to counsel (indicates pamphlet) and rights to privacy and other things in general. We even have them in different languages.

I only speak one language.

We have it in Spanish and all kinds of languages. What this is about: You've been selected for a Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program. I have a few questions I'd like to ask you. I'm verifying some information: Date of birth and so on. But primarily you're selected—you asked why you're selected. I think because we didn't see a 1988 tax return and we show 1987—I think—as one being filed. (pause, looking over the file in his hands, checking each year. Looks befuddled.) No tax return has been received under your tax return number. (pause, obviously awaiting my comments) So we're asking, where are the returns, did you have to file, and so on.

(pause) I see.

1987 we don't show you having any income. (pause) Could've been you were in school or something. (pause) 1988 we show you did have some income. (pause) Almost 12,000 dollars. (pause) Primarily from Media Alliance. (pause) Ninety three hundred dollars and (pause) direct sales (pause) Original San Francisco. (pause) That's 1988. (pause) Have you filed your returns? (pause) 1988 or 1989 or—

(pause) No, I haven't.

Is there a reason?

Yes, there's a reason. I'd be happy to share the reason with you, too. I don't feel able to file the returns because I don't feel right about participating in the collection process. I believe the situation with the federal government's budget: spending more than half the money on what I consider to be extremely violent activities—the military and so on—I cannot participate. And it's very hard for me, because I would like to participate in society in as many ways as I can. But I can't participate in that way because the whole picture is that it's used for killing and wars and things that I just cannot support in any way.

What you're saying is you protest your taxes by not filing and by not paying. Is that correct?

Right, I can't in good conscience, turn over money for those purposes to anyone. If an individual came knocking at my door asking me for money to buy guns I couldn't give it to them. And if an institution, such as the government or anyone else came, for the same reason I couldn't give it to them.

(pause) Well, under our system, it's not an option. If you have earnings in the United States and you're a citizen, you're obligated to pay taxes. Also one of your obligations is to vote and to try to change the system. But it's not an option to nonpay taxes for government services, or any other reason. If you refuse to file, we can file taxes for you. Make an assessment. And go through the collection process of garnishing wages. Doing it the hard way.

So you would be filling out the return instead of me?

We have the power under Federal Revenue Code section 61 B to file the return for you and to collect from you. That's not a preferable way of doing it, but we can do that. And that's basically what I have to say about that. As far as the use of the money, as I say, if you have a protest over the use of the money and the dollars that go in, y'know, your right to go to your congressmen, your senators, your representatives, to basically, peacefully protest the uses of the money. I don't like a lot of the uses of the money either.

I appreciate that I have the right to vote and so on. And I appreciate that I'm being asked to fill out my tax form. I feel, each day—especially over the last few months [during the Persian Gulf war]—I feel stronger and stronger convictions that I don't want to be a participant in this process: Toppling so many governments, interfering in the affairs of so many people around the world, as well as not actually providing here at home what should be, I think, the essential purposes of government. In that sense, I just don't feel that I can participate in any way. My sense is that I would like very much to be able to contribute to society, and I do feel that I contribute. Voting is something I do to a certain extent but I don't think that there are very many choices available. At some point I have to say this is my limit, this is what I'm able to do. So this is what I'm saying: My limit is that I can participate as a member of society and try to advance the health and security of the people in my community as well as the whole in ways that I think are nonviolent. But when it comes to participating in the more violent side of it, I have real qualms about it. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't sleep at night if I were to know that some of my money—that I worked for—were to go to that.

As I say, the official position is that you owe taxes and that you need to file. And if you don't file a return, we'd file for you.

What's the procedure there? Would you personally fill out the return?

I refer it for further enforcement and examination [with] the income information that I have from here, and we fill out a return for you. You'll get an assessment in the mail, and when you're given due notice... We can go through some of those things.

Yeah, it'd be real useful for me to know what I'm up against here.

This is yours to keep.

(We go over over the steps outlined in the brochure.)

Do you have this situation come up on occasion?

Oh yeah.

I'm not aware of how many people feel the way I do about it.

Oh, many do. (pause) Like I say, this is not—You owe taxes on any income that you earned in the United States. And it's not an option under the Internal Revenue code, and it's under the [Constitutional] Amendment to collect income tax. To me—We can go around and around on this—but it's my opinion, the way you change things is you change your representatives.

I wish I had more faith in that system. I really do.

Well, it's the only system we have. In any case, you can look at all the pamphlets we have. We have many others.

I don't suppose you would have any specifically addressing my concerns.

On tax protest?

(He slowly peruses the pamphlets he just gave me, to no avail)

I've been working with Japanese students on and off. And in Japan there's a tradition of rituals and prayers for peace. One of the things they do for peace is they fold peace cranes.

Yeah, they're very nice. (said sincerely)

And that's what I'm doing right here. (pause) And I have to brag that I managed to come out with the '1040' on the wing.

(He laughs in a friendly way.)

If you feel so inclined, you may have this for your collection.

(He takes the crane. Changing the subject, he goes back to the pamphlet and tightens his expression.) I was looking to see if it had anything about, uh...

I'll read it through to see if I can understand it. That's one thing I hope to do is understand how the system works so that I can try better to be a responsible member of society within the limitations of my conscience. I can't picture a way—unless the United States actively denounces the use of force and violence as so called 'solutions' to problems—I can't think of a way that I would want to, or be able to, participate in the collection system.

Anyway, What could happen is: We have the right to ask for or to gather information on your taxes, and if you refuse to file, we have the power under Internal Revenue code, given us by congress, to file for you. Once a return is filed, you'll get notices in the mail. And if you pay the assessment, then there's nothing further done about it. If you don't pay, then it'll go into Enforced Collection. Levies may be filed. 'Garnished wages,' we call it. Liens may be filed with the County Recorder, which would hurt your credit. It's not without consequences.

Well, it's not without consequences for me to pay, either.

All I'm saying is, we get into it as an unwilling creditor, you as an unwilling debtor. And it's not nice; It's just business.

Well, I appreciate that you're explaining the process and the options to me but I cannot participate. I've already decided that. This is one example of what I'm talking about. (I pull out and show him War Resisters' League leaflet: "Where Your Tax Money Really Goes") I've looked at this, and over 52% of the taxes go to the military. Not to mention the portion that goes to other reprehensible things, but just the side of the military. This is the way the current pie is divided up. 29% is current military—and I'm sure it's much higher with the war having taken quite a bit of money. And 23% is past military, including paying for all the national debts incurred from the military. That makes over half of the 1991 fiscal budget.

Fiscal Year 2003

So is there any point in our continuing with these questions? (indicating interview questionnaire)

You can ask me the questions, if you like, but I don't expect I'm inclined to answer, since that's part of the collection process I can't participate in.

Well, then the interview is over. (said in a somewhat blustery manner)


(We stand up)

Thanks for coming in to the office.

Thank you for spending the time to explain this all to me.

And thanks for the crane. (takes it from the table)

Here. You might want to take this, too... (I pick up War Resisters' leaflet. He looks doubtful.) case there are questions about why I feel the way I do.

(He acquiesces and takes it, we leave.)

Barring a paperwork snafu, or a decision to treat me as an especially volatile case (which I doubt), I expected that the sequence of assessments, billings, notices and certified final warnings would end in liens and levies against me. I am determined that attempts by the I.R.S., should they occur, will be unsuccessful. They have the right to take valuable property from me. I have nothing of value to them.

On extremely rare occasions, war tax resisters have been jailed for brief periods, mostly as harassment. I don't expect this, but would have to choose this over complicity in the State's violent destruction of its chosen enemies.

My understanding, from reading about and talking with other resisters, is that the long term result of this may be eventual abandonment of the collection process. In other words, they'll probably give up, since I am not anyone important, worth demonizing, and have no assets.

If it is true, as I say at the top of this interview, that I am being targeted as part of an attempt to get the "easier" low income folks to pay up, then I am less likely to be subjected to long term harassment, since I'm resisting.

While it is tempting to dwell incessantly on practical details and strategies of tax resistance, the fact remains that there's no easy way. The only things that make resistance easier are firm convictions and regular contact with others who share those convictions. After all, I justify my actions on moral grounds, not practical or legalistic grounds, usually reserved for right-wing resisters (for example, the issue of a treasury based on a gold standard that no longer exists).

I feel fortunate that I was approached by such a personable I.R.S. agent. At first, I worried that the I.R.S. bureaucrat assigned to me would try to isolate and admonish me. Once I realized that even enforcement officers are human beings, I stopped being so nervous. The result, I feel, was a good interview.

More about War Tax Resistance and Peace Cranes

How to fold a peace crane
Detailed instructions good for people who have never done origami paper folding.

The War Resisters League produces a wonderful newsletter, the Nonviolent Activist, and has many other important resources, including their yearly analysis of how the federal budget divides up between military and nonmilitary uses.

Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes WRL's famous "pie chart" for Fiscal Year 2003



Joel Pomerantz

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