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If House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's faltering inquisition of the IRS seems familiar, it should. Back in the 1990s, Republicans demonized the agency, slashed its enforcement staff and, unsurprisingly, helped the growth of tax cheating which now costs Uncle Sam up to $500 billion in lost revenue annually. And as Reuters reported Saturday, history is repeating itself in one other disturbing respect: IRS officials are now receiving threats of violence.

Just days after Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) questioned why some IRS agents receive training in using AR-15 rifles ("Are Americans that much of a target that you need that kind of capability?"), Reuters revealed threats made against current and former IRS officials at the center of the supposed targeting of conservative non-profit "social welfare" groups:

Ousted IRS acting commissioner, Steven Miller, has received such threats, according to a source familiar with his situation. The source declined to elaborate on the nature or the source of the threats.

And the head of the tax-exempt unit at the agency, Lois Lerner, who has been put on administrative leave as investigations into the controversy continue, has had telephone and email messages from unknown sources that "threaten physical violence," according to her attorney William Taylor.

Those threats have been reported to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). And while lower level Internal Revenue staff frequently face such dangers, the top brass are another matter:
Threats are nothing new for IRS workers. In their unpopular line of work, IRS agents face hundreds of threats annually, including death threats, TIGTA data shows.

But it is unusual for senior IRS executives to get personal threats, said Steve Walsh, a former agent with TIGTA who worked on security for some former commissioners. He is now a licensed private investigator in Los Angeles.

TIGTA provided armed escorts for IRS employees on 74 occasions in fiscal 2012 ended September 30. In the six months from October 2012 through March 2013, TIGTA provided 36 armed escorts to IRS agents.

As a quick review of the past two decades shows, those armed escorts are provided with good reason. After all, Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage is hardly the first member of his party to slander the IRS as "the new Gestapo."

As David Cay Johnston explained in his 2003 classic Perfectly Legal, the GOP during the Clinton administration waged an all-out war on the IRS. Then as now, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz framed the issue for his Republican allies, "Which would you prefer: having your wallet or purse stolen or being audited by the IRS?" As Sen. William Roth's Finance Committee held hearings in 1997 and 1998, Mississippi's Trent Lott and Alaska's Frank Murkowski decried the IRS' "Gestapo-like tactics." Murkowski went on to complain, "You don't need to send in armed personnel in flak jackets." Don Nickles of Oklahoma raged, "The IRS is out of control!" Congress went on to pass and Bill Clinton signed the IRS Reform and Restructuring Act in 1998.

Continue reading below the fold.

As the New York Times recounted that spring, the plan to gut the IRS advocated by Phil Gramm and his allies was a popular political gambit, but almost certain to create incentives for tax evasion:

Mr. Gramm spoke at length of how he had ''no confidence'' in the I.R.S., remarks that were in sharp contrast to those of every other senator, who emphasized that the majority of I.R.S. workers were honest and most taxpayers law-abiding.

A variety of tax experts have said in recent weeks that attacks on the I.R.S., which polls show are a potent device to win votes and contributions for Republicans, give comfort to tax cheats and discourage honest taxpayers.

Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

But the doubling of revenue lost to tax evasion, fraud and other schemes wasn't the only result of the Republican demagoguery of the Internal Revenue Service. Threats of violence against the jack-booted thugs from the IRS were a sadly predictable by-product.

As it turned out, the picture of an unaccountable praetorian guard at the IRS painted by Republicans simply wasn't true. As Johnston reported for the New York Times in 2000:

Two years ago, Congress, warned in hearings that the Internal Revenue Service was bullying many innocent Americans, passed a law requiring that the agency fire workers who harassed taxpayers.

But not one of the first 830 complaints of taxpayer harassment filed under the new law has been upheld by the I.R.S. or its new Congressionally designated watchdog, according to new data.

Investigations by the I.R.S. and the watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, found evidence that some of the complaints were bogus -- made in an effort to derail audits and tax collections. Others were either without merit or involved misconduct that fell far short of the Congressional definition of harassment.

Former FBI director and Judge William Webster, who headed up an investigation ordered by Roth's Senate Committee, concluded, "No evidence was found of systematic abuses by agents." When a GAO inquiry similarly revealed "no corroborating evidence that the criminal investigations described at the hearing were retaliatory against the specific taxpayer," Sen. Roth tried to prevent its report from becoming public.

But the damage was already done. Not only was the IRS's ability to pursue tax fraud gutted, but the incendiary rhetoric about the agency Republicans introduced was quickly propagated among tax protestors nationwide. And as the Bush Justice Department documented, that included anti-tax terrorists:

On April 4, 2003, the FBI arrested David Roland Hinkson, a constitutionalist and tax protestor, for attempting to arrange the murders of a federal judge, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and an IRS Agent whom he blamed for his legal problems regarding a tax evasion case against him. Between December 2002 and March 2003, Hinkson offered two individuals $10,000 for committing all three murders. On January 27, 2005, Hinkson was found guilty on three counts of solicitation to commit murder after a three week jury trial in Boise, Idaho. On June 3, 2005, Hinkson was sentenced to 43 years in federal prison.
As it turned out, Hinkson owed over a million dollars in taxes on his dietary supplement business, Water Oz. Echoing the sentiment Stack expressed online today, Hinkson described the IRS raid he endured in 2002:
"I believe that...[government officials] orchestrated the raid on Water Oz and my home for the sole purpose of murdering me and ending the lawsuit that was filed against them by me."
Disgruntled taxpayer Joseph Stack entertained similar thoughts. Declaring, "Well Mr. Big Brother IRS Man, let's try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well," Stack in February 2010 flew a small airplane into the IRS office in Austin, Texas. His suicide attack killed IRS employee and Vietnam veteran Vernon Hunter.

That fatal act against employees of our United States government should have been met with universal revulsion. Instead, among some Republicans it was greeted as an opportunity. Iowa Rep. Steve King offered this lesson from Stack's murderous terror attack on a U.S. federal building:

"It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America."
Newly elected Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown similarly seemed to show sympathy for the devil:
"I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated. They want transparency, they want their elected officials to be accountable and open and talk about the things that are affecting their daily lives. So I'm not sure that there's a connection, I certainly hope not. But we need to do things better."
One of those things is to clarify the rules surrounding the tax-exempt status of partisan political groups of all stripes masquerading as "social welfare" organizations. President Obama and Democrats in Congress have been more than willing to investigate and punish any alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups. Now, we just need Republicans to stop giving rhetorical aid and comfort to those who would literally target IRS workers.

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 11:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Threatening violence against civilians... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight, divineorder, Nattiq

    for political purposes.

    I'm assuming they're Muslims?
    Al Quaeda? Salafis? Qaddafis?

  •  Gee Whiz (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Rethugs went on the attack in the 90s??? That's odd considering that under St. Ronald in the 80s the IRS was behaving at their jackbooted worst... it was said.

    I remember all the 1980s reports about overly-aggressive IRS agents and draconian collection procedures that cause some people to commit suicide!

    So why did the rethugs wait until the late 90s to start braying about it?????

    Oh, that's right, because... Clinton... Democrat.

    Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

    by Pariah Dog on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 12:13:55 PM PDT

  •  Stochastic Terrorism (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Love, divineorder, VTCC73, Nattiq

    Still gets a free pass by DHS.

  •  There's only one former IRS (0+ / 0-)

    employee serving in Congress. Tea Party leader Michele Bachmann.

  •  medieval resistance to manorial taxation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    what could go wrong

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 12:54:22 PM PDT

  •  We must educate people about the (0+ / 0-)

    importance of IRS collections to the benefits they get from their government.  Your post helps this effort.

    Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

    by divineorder on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 02:06:01 PM PDT

    •  I don't think its education... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I am at the point in dealing with the right where if we are nice to them, they act out, smack them and they whine.  The only education the right needs on taxes are jail sentences for tax evasion.  Lots of them, they don't have to be long, just convict them of felony tax evasion for anything willful and be done with it.  

      Failure to prosecute is what allows this to spread.  And this is from someone who may never like paying them but knows that he buys civilization with each payment.  

      I'm a 4 Freedoms Democrat.

      by DavidMS on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 07:40:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's all about killing Obamacare (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rbird, Subterranean, Hockeyray, orlbucfan

    The IRS will have a function in implementing Obamacare, and 'proving' that it's not able to carry out it's duties as an organization helps to weaken the case for the ACA.

    Oh and it doesn't hurt that the weaker they can make the IRS, the less taxes billionaires and mega-corps will pay.

    It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here, what better time than now? - Guerilla Radio, Rage Against The Machine.

    by Fordmandalay on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 07:09:29 PM PDT

  •  That building was a bombed out shell (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for the longest time -- a stark reminder of the lunacy that grips this nation.  It's since been refurbished.

    Obama: self-described Republican; backed up by right-wing policies

    by The Dead Man on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 07:11:02 PM PDT

  •  To answer Luntz (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WayneNight, Subterranean, orlbucfan
    "Which would you prefer: having your wallet or purse stolen or being audited by the IRS?"
    Spoken by someone who's never been mugged or robbed.  The IRS.  They might give me some of my money back.  That does happen occasionally.  Even if they don't, they'll ask nicely.  They won't knock me down, kick me in the head, and leave me bleeding in the street.  

    Luntz's question is similar to that of young-Earth creationists:  "Were you there?"

    There are always good answers to these glib half-smart gotcha questions.  "No, but uranium was.  It tells us the date."

    Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

    by rbird on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 07:24:07 PM PDT

  •  I wonder why anyone... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...would even want to work there. They've been thoroughly villanized.

    When I was in High School, I remember hearing about how someone invited their father, who works for the IRS, in for some kind of career day type thing. I wasn't there for that one, but I understand it didn't go well. Everyone in the class was hostile.

    The kicker was: I heard that story from someone I thought would have known better. But she was happy about it.

  •  IRS employees are not evil. (7+ / 0-)

    I worked there for 8 years and I enjoyed it. My first job was tax examiner, answering letters, removing penalties, finding checks, etc. I remember how the big oil companies could not figure out how to deposit their payroll taxes properly. I did enjoy telling those assholes that they owned the penalties and they did pay them.(I read the instructions right off the form so this was not brain surgery for me.) I also enjoyed removing the penalties from ordinary citizens who had made a mistake or misunderstood something about the taxes.I remember one payment of $56,000 that was sitting there and the letter was from someone who had a family farm, it was a real hard luck story and I felt so bad for them. I monitored their account and when the taxes were filed I went in and removed every penalty I could find. I would like to think I helped them in some small way.

    My next job was managing a few units where we researched the checks that people did not include their social security number on. IRS wanted to cash the checks first then let the taxpayer write in again to locate the check. We changed the paradigm to find the correct account first. I enjoyed training my employees to expand their research capabilities and I think they thought they had an important job that was interesting.

    I worked for SSA also and I can only say that most government employees I worked with were hard workers that would frequently go beyond the call of duty to help a taxpayer or social security recipient. I remember one SSA employee researching where a homeless person was living who was approved for disability and had a $30,000 check for back payment coming. She found his family, found someone to be his payee and even went under a bridge to find him and tell his disability was approved. I assure you no government contractor would do that, even though they receive twice or 3 times the pay.

    So for every government employee that pisses you off or whatever, there are 20 other ones busting their asses to help the public.

    Ok, I'm done!

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. - Elbert Hubbard -9.62/-8.15

    by GustavMahler on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 07:54:09 PM PDT

  •  The conservative "way" of addressing issues (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tb mare

    The same crowd that systematically raise the possibility to bomb every time another country doesn't see eye to eye with the US or won't act submissive...

    Yep, conservatives, always on the attack, when not with another country, with its own government! To only think of the way they have morphed the 2nd Amendment over the years from "the right to have an armed militia" into "allowing citizens to possess an arsenal to attack its own government" provides a glimpse of how sick these people are!

  •  as the con republicans (0+ / 0-)

    have been saying there are traitors in our govt but they are on the right and they are turning our nation into a haven for domestic terrorists that are targeting our govt workers in the name of freedom, when fascism and tyranny is their goal.
    the left has been attacked like this for decades and the response when the right is targeted is typical, accusations and violence, beware america our country is disappearing right before our eyes and we are too ignorant to notice, when they come for thee who will care if no one is left to.

  •  Abolish the IRS? (0+ / 0-)

    King is only the latest one, hardly the only one, to make hay with this. It would be fun if somebody would ask him, in a public forum, if we should just not enforce tax law? Which other laws should we stop enforcing? Immigration controls? Who will pay for those?

    (Of course the answer is STFU.)

    Early to rise and early to bed Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and dead. --Not Benjamin Franklin

    by Boundegar on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 03:35:05 AM PDT

  •  Tax Cheating to Teabaggers (0+ / 0-)

    is a badge of honor.

    •  yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Seems to me those who hate the IRS are either cheating on their taxes or not paying taxes.

      We have been audited by the IRS before, and I find If you treat IRS staff with respect they treat you with respect. And yes there are some stupid people working at the IRS, just like there is everywhere. Thing is when you are dealing with the IRS, the employees you talk to have to give you their name & ID number, so you can complain if they are not doing their job.

  •  the real new Gestopo is the Tea Party (0+ / 0-)

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