To protest the Trump administration, English professor Andrew Newman plans to resist paying his 2017 federal income taxes.
“I think paying taxes is a fundamental acknowledgment of the legitimacy of one’s government,” Newman said. “My planned tax resistance is my way of saying that I don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of this government.”
He attended a workshop led by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) and was given instructions on how to accomplish tax resistance. So far, he has legally reduced the amount of money that will be withheld from his paycheck. That money will result in a bill from the IRS, which is what he will resist paying.
“I hope that all that happens is that I get a bill, then I get a fine, which I can proceed not to pay. Ideally what happens is the taxes I owe and fines will accumulate for the next few years and then there’ll be an administration in place that I could support and then I’ll pay my back taxes,” Newman said.
The NWTRCC was founded in 1982 and relies on a “national network of groups and volunteers that make up our coalition,” according to Ruth Benn, who works part-time as the organization’s coordinator. The organization’s mission is to educate those who wish to practice tax resistance on the proper protocol.
This is not tax evasion, Newman claims. The difference, he says, is that evaders try to pay as little tax as possible while pocketing the profit. Resisters, though still committing an illegal act, are doing so as a form of political protest. He plans to donate his extra money to causes he feels the Trump administration will not support.
“I’m going to donate the money I would be paying to the IRS to environmentalist causes or Planned Parenthood, things of that sort,” Newman said.
Benn, who has resisted 100 percent of her federal income taxes for 13 years, also gives away the money she would be paying in taxes.
“I give the money away to groups that do good work and don’t kill people,” Benn said in an email.
Newman does not foresee a bigger penalty than being fined. However, he has received hate mail via Twitter and email.
“There’s people calling me ‘un-American,’ which is the most historically blind accusation you could imagine because America was founded on tax resistance,” Newman said, citing the Boston Tea Party.
Newman teaches Native American and Early American studies. He was inspired by American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” which his American Literature class read last semester.
“I definitely had it on my mind during the election, so I started thinking about tax resistance immediately after the election,” Newman said.
He believes that taxes are being misappropriated by the current administration, pointing out the president’s cabinet nominee choices as evidence of corruption.
“All the federal agencies are being basically devoted to the opposite of their missions. Betsy DeVos, in my view, is determined to destroy the mission of public education, and Scott Pruitt, he’s an anti-environmentalist and a climate change denier who’s been appointed to the head of the EPA,” Newman said.
Benn said in an email that the NWTRCC focuses on protesting war, the military budget and the militarization of our borders.
“Trump’s victory has certainly felt like a turn backwards, but for many of us, Hillary Clinton was a strong war and military supporter, so we would still be doing what we’re doing,” Benn said in an email. “We protest the misuse of money when it could be used to save the earth, give war reparations and fund human needs at home and abroad.”
The environment is one cause Newman plans to support, and he does not plan to wait for the government to take action concerning environmental issues.
“I think that any administration that’s doing more harm than good for the environment deserves to be resisted at this point,” Newman said.
He thinks the best way to protest this issue and many others is to tax resist. “Let them march all they want so long as they pay their taxes,” Newman said, referencing a quote by former Secretary of State Alexander Haig.
“The premise of tax resistance is that insofar as the federal government wants our tax dollars, it’s a form of resistance that could really get their attention,” Newman said.
Benn agrees that tax resistance is a good way to be noticed by the government. However, she acknowledges that the IRS has made it harder for people to protest.
“During the 1980s, the IRS seized houses and cars more frequently and created a new rule, the frivolous penalty, to make it harder for people to resist in certain ways,” Benn said in an email.
The Frivolous Act, according to Forbes Magazine, states that if your tax position is found to be “frivolous” or “fraudulent” it can mean a 20 percent accuracy-related penalty and a 75 percent civil fraud penalty.
Newman says that his advocacy for tax resistance reflects his personal views and that he does not represent the English Department or Stony Brook University.
“I don’t tell my students to vote in any particular way, and I certainly don’t encourage them to practice tax resistance,” Newman said.
He believes that the people who should practice tax resistance are those who are in stable professions like himself.
“I’m not just talking about being tenured,” Newman said. “I think that there’s a lot of people who are very vulnerable to this administration, including undocumented immigrants and Native Americans and poor communities who don’t have as much wherewithal, for example, to protect their environment.”
He admits, though, that if it hadn’t been for Donald Trump, it would not have occurred to him to practice tax resistance. However, now that he plans to protest, he is adamant that this is about more than just President Trump.
“Even if Trump was impeached that wouldn’t change my mind about tax resistance in the upcoming year,” Newman said. “It’s not just about Trump. I feel that any Republican administration that would replace Trump is going to keep in place his harmful policies and their harmful policies.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously misspelled the last name of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.