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The problem with Tax-Strike for Gaza

The problem with Tax-Strike for Gaza

On March 15, Novara Media put out an article on a new campaign which claims people can legally refuse to pay their taxes on moral grounds, specifically over the British government’s continued support for the Israeli State and its potentially genocidal acts against the Palestinian people. 

While this may sound like a reasonable idea, in line with other similar campaigns, both historic and present, the language used seems more in line with the fringe Freeman of the Land movement in the UK or the USA-based Sovereign Citizen movement. Both are mostly made up of right-wing fantasist conspiracy theorists who believe that by using pseudo-legal statements, you can somehow wrangle your way out of certain laws and statutes. This is, of course, nonsense, and by promoting these fringe conspiracies, Novara could get hundreds, if not thousands, of well-meaning people into serious legal trouble.

This is not to say that refusing to pay taxes isn’t a legitimate form of protest or that the illegality of action delegitimises it. Neither is this a comment on the Israel/Palestine conflict or an acceptance of the legitimacy of government or taxation. I merely want to underline that as far as the State is concerned, everyone has a legal obligation to pay taxes and to claim or promote the claim that there is a legal exemption is incredibly irresponsible.

Protests seen as illegal by the state have long been an effective tool against it, with refusal-to-pay campaigns having a long and effective history. Often, the most effective forms of protest necessitate breaking the law to varying extents, and with the authoritarian anti-protest laws implemented by the government, this will increasingly be the case. There have also been several movements trying to organise tax strikes over the years, most notably from the anti-war, pacifist and peace movements, as well as resistance to the poll tax and, more recently, the Don’t Pay campaign. But in all these cases, the participants knew what they were getting into; they knew they were acting against the law and were prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.

If you are mobilising people for mass action, you have an ethical duty of care towards them. Without everyone involved having an understanding of the risks they are taking, or if you are lying or misleading them with false claims, questions of consent arise. I don’t want to take away the agency of those who decide they are willing to take such risks for a cause they believe in, but this is an important consideration, especially when breaking the law. 

We saw a similar situation in the early days of Extinction Rebellion (XR). Participants in XR’s actions, particularly those who put themselves forward for mass arrest, were not always adequately warned about the costs of going up against the state and courts, including the risk to their jobs or the impact of taking days off to appear before the courts; they were not warned of how damaging long and drawn-out legal cases can be for their long-term mental health; they were not warned of how the law is not fair, how corrupt the system is, or how irrelevant “the truth” is to the punitive carceral state. 

The XR leadership had prior activism experience and would have been aware of this, so it is hard to believe this was an accidental omission on their part. By downplaying the severity of these impacts, they failed in their responsibility to those who were putting their freedom on the line at their behest. 

Novara Media’s article likewise fails to make clear the legal dubiousness of the claims made by the campaign organisers. Charlotte England, the article’s author, later stated on the site formally known as Twitter that she thinks “the article makes clear there is no proven legal mechanism for refusing to pay tax. I’m simply reporting that the campaign exists”. While the article does indeed do this, it also repeatedly follows up with assurance from the campaign organisers. It is not at all clear that what is being suggested has, in fact, been tried and tested many times by the Freemen and Sovereign Citizens and has never succeeded

This brings me to Chris Coverdale, a veteran anti-war and peace activist with a history of being sent to prison specifically for not paying taxes. The involvement of Coverdale should be a huge red flag, and not only due to the reasons behind his arrests. What Novara left out is that over the last few years, Coverdale has started espousing increasingly fantastical conspiratorial views. While I don’t think a tactic should be disregarded just because those with different or opposing views also use it, I do think the involvement of someone such as Coverdale, whose beliefs are directly related to his proposed tactics, should be explained to allow for additional context.

While Coverdale’s understandable opposition to Britain’s many criminal and military actions has always verged on the pseudo-legal, these have solidified more recently. He has also increasingly expressed anti-vaccination and borderline antisemitic views. Lately, he was involved in a talk at the controversial Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall, hosted by the alleged antisemite James Thring, who has been accused of Holocaust denial and has appeared on far right radio shows and podcasts, most notably with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. 

It could certainly be argued that Coverdale was unaware of who he was associating with. However, during the event, where he was giving a talk on how to legally withhold tax, several audience members made comments specifically using well-known antisemitic tropes referencing the “Rothschilds”, “Masons”, “globalists” and bizarrely “rumplestiltskins”. Not only did he not question this language but repeatedly agreed with the sentiments expressed.

By failing to provide this context, Novara has not only directed people towards an organisation making legally dubious claims but potentially one motivated by antisemitic conspiracy theories. I would argue that this is important information to have when deciding on whether or not to align yourself with a movement. While it wouldn’t be fair to allege guilt by association or accuse the other organisers of being antisemitic just for their association with Coverdale, it certainly puts their judgment and motives under a spotlight.

As for Novara, if they aren’t reporting on this campaign to warn people about its dangers, why draw attention to it at all? As an anarchist, I understand the appeal of the idea that by using the right words, we can somehow destroy the legitimacy of the State and its laws, but for action to be effective, it must be based in reality.

~ Stanton Cree

If you want sound advice on the legalities of an intended action, contact ACAB and/or GBC.

Image: BRM / Public domain

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