Tax Attacks

On Feb. 18, 2010, software engineer Joesph Stack flew a small plane into a building housing the Internal Revenue Service offices in Austin, Texas, because he was upset with the IRS, according to officials. Though Stack's actions were extreme, the United States has seen a quiet but violent antitaxation movement grow since the middle of the 20th century. Having little in common with the Revolutionary War-era Boston Tea Partiers, these protesters believe taxes are unjustified, with or without representation, and they may have ties to other antigovernment groups, including the militia movement, the Sovereign Citizen movement, and white-supremacist groups. Mark Pitcavage, a historian of extreme-right-wing movements and the director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, and the Southern Poverty Law Center have researched the history of violent attacks carried out by members of the tax-protest movement. Here they highlight a few of the major events in the movement's history.

An early adherent of the Tax Protest Movement and a World War II veteran, Kahl ushered in a new era of violence for a movement that had, to that point, focused almost exclusively on tax evasion and similar white-collar crimes. He stopped paying taxes in 1969 and came to the attention of the IRS after appearing on TV in 1974 espousing his views. After serving a year in jail in 1977, Kahl promptly violated his probation by not filing a tax return. A warrant was issued, although U.S. marshals were wary of him because of his arsenal. Finally, in February 1983, Kahl killed two marshals and injured several others when they tried to stop him at a roadblock. He was tracked to an Arkansas farmhouse four months later where he died in a shootout, though not before killing a local sheriff.

Hicks, an aerospace engineer, had been angry with the IRS since 1981, when he was denied a tax deduction in connection with the Universal Life Church. From 1987 to 1991, he attempted several attacks on the agency, including a failed February 1990 effort with a fertilizer truck bomb in Los Angeles. In April 1991, he fired 13 bombs from a launcher in a field near the IRS office in Fresno, Calif., injuring no one and causing some minor damage. In January 1992, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

In April 1992, someone fired a shotgun through the front of the Hayward, Calif., IRS office, and in September 1993, an employee at the agency's Santa Barbara office smelled gas, foiling an attempt to blow up the building by pumping propane through a broken window. Both cases remain unsolved.

Federal agents got wind of Polk's plot to blow up an IRS Service Center in Austin, Texas, catching him when he tried to purchase a machine gun from an undercover federal agent. Law-enforcement officers said the explosives he was seeking would have demolished the building. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Bailie and Hurst planted 100 pounds of explosives in a 30-gallon drum outside a Reno, Nev., IRS office in December 1995, but the blasting cap failed and the bomb did not detonate. Hurst pleaded guilty and testified against Bailie, who was sentenced to 36 years in prison. Hurst was released from jail in 2007.

Tax protesters twice attacked offices of the IRS in Colorado Springs, Colo., using fire. In 2003, Jack Dowell and ringleader James Floyd Cleaver were convicted of the 1997 arson (the 1999 attack remains unsolved), fined $2.2 million in restitution, and sentenced to jail. They are scheduled for release in 2027 and 2030, respectively.

Van Hazel, a veteran tax protester and white supremacist, first got into legal trouble for mailing death threats to IRS agents and a black judge in the 1980s. In October 1999, he and Tony Coe were arrested in Rochester Hills, Mich., where they were charged with attempting to kidnap and kill an accountant who had testified in the trial of an alleged tax evader. Van Hazel was sentenced to life in prison.

Treasury agents in Utah arrested David D'Addabbo for threatening to kill IRS employees "by firing squad" if they continued to attempt to collect taxes from him or his wife. When he was arrested in March 2006 while leaving church, he was carrying a Glock pistol, ammunition, and a knife. He pleaded guilty to one charge in exchange for having the others dropped, was sentenced to time served, and was released later in the year.

Join the Discussion