Tax Free or Die: Declaring Your Sovereignty Online

The simplest tax form this side of the 1040-EZ is available at a Web site near you: Download a Declaration of Sovereign Citizenship, send it off to your local county clerk, and never pay income tax again-ever.County clerks in the New York area and around the country are reporting an increasing number of people submitting these declarations, taken right off the Web. There's just one catch, according to the IRS: it's probably illegal.America has always had its share of tax protesters, from the War Resisters League to Spiro Agnew. But the Web has allowed people to go public with their politics, and the IRS has come in for particular animus. Among the dozens of anti-tax organizations on the Web, Terra Libra is one of the more prominent.While other Arizona patriot groups, such as the Viper Militia, conspire to blow up buildings, Phoenix's Terra Libra takes a more entrepreneurial approach. Under the name TL Marketing Services, the group offers a whole range of dubious rightist investments: offshore trust accounts, gold-based investing, elaborate pyramid schemes. But tax freedom is their hallmark. For $50, Terra Libra will file an Affidavit of Truth with the county clerk's office in Maricopa County, Arizona. This 12-page document, their Web site promises, serves as a formal declaration that federal jurisdiction over your income is "null and void.""The IRS can be defeated," this site proclaims. "You have Sovereign Individual Rights when it comes to taxes ... covered in extensive detail in our new report #TL16G by Don Sovereign." Mr. Sovereign's report is also available for purchase. (Messages left at TL Marketing Services were not returned.)Other sovereignty Web sites offer similar tax-bucking strategies, but each is backed up with its own particular distortion of law. The Patriots Page goes right to the source, citing the Internal Revenue Service Handbook for Special Agents: "Avoidance of taxes is not a criminal offense. Any attempt to reduce, avoid, minimize, or alleviate taxes by legitimate means is permissible." (All the Patriots' secrets are in the book Vultures in Eagle's Clothing, which can be found at your local militia bookstore.)The IRS is not amused. "If it doesn't work, you're going to be in a lot of trouble," warns spokesman Robert Kobel. "We'll investigate and possibly prosecute. It's a chance people don't want to take."But some still do. According to Suffolk County Clerk Edward Romaine, his office has received about two dozen declarations of sovereignty since 1990. Until late last year, they'd just land in a miscellaneous file to be forgotten. But in December, Romaine received some declarations that had come off the Web. Taking a closer look, Romaine decided his office would no longer accept them. "They were trying to use this office to make a political statement," he says.Though they might traditionally be sleepy government repositories, clerk's offices are increasingly being used by fringe groups for antigovernment activism. Two weeks ago, Howard Boos, an Oklahoma chiropractor and tax protester, was charged with filing in a clerk's office a false $20 million lien against two IRS agents who were investigating him for evasion. And last month Texas governor George W. Bush declared a legislative emergency to confront the "paper terrorism" campaign conducted by a group calling itself the Republic of Texas. The group had used county clerk's offices throughout the state to file thousands of false liens against anyone it considered its enemies.Romaine, who chairs the Metropolitan Region County Clerks Association, says clerks around the state have seen declarations of sovereignty. Why are would-be sovereigns singling out these officials? "The county clerk's office is the file cabinet of government," Romaine explains. "Any important records-from deeds to mortgages to court judgments-are filed with us. They want to file it here to make it legitimate." Many sovereignty Web sites recommend the clerks' offices because they offer quasi-official recognition without "raising red flags," as the Terra Libra site says.The Internet has always had its libertarian streak. Weaned on open communication and seasoned by censorship battles, cybernauts are notoriously adamant about civil liberties. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco and Voters Telecommunications Watch in New York vigilantly defend the Internet from government encroachment, while more maverick cyber libertarians conduct Internet raids on the FBI and CIA Web sites. And then there are the patriots, right-wing groups that have taken to the Internet to spread their anti-New World Order message.Somewhere in the electronic morass between libertarianism and militancy lurk the tax protesters. Clearly, their Web sites are the product of antigovernment philosophy. But you don't have to be a modern-day Thoreau to follow their advice, as Romaine points out. "When this stuff gets put on the Internet, it opens it up to anyone who just doesn't want to pay taxes." And as April 15 approaches, that could be just about anybody.Terra Tax Rights


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