Tax protest backers vow to disobey
Sunday, April 29, 2007
For supporters of Ed and Elaine Brown, a federal judge’s decision to
sentence the tax-protesting couple to 63 months in prison wasn’t the big
news Tuesday. In part, that’s because it will have no immediate effect on
the couple, who remain holed up in their fortified Plainfield home. Instead,
the couple’s supporters are reacting to an announcement by the federal
marshal that anyone who helps the Browns evade capture might be subject to
For members of the Free State Project, who see the Brown case as a classic
example of government overreaching, the marshal’s warning was little
deterrent. On a message board frequented by Free Staters and libertarians,
his message was described as an invitation to civil disobedience, the better
to show the iron fist of law enforcement. One poster suggested bringing
small offerings, like pieces of hard candy, to see if the bearers would be
In a press conference after the sentencing hearings, U.S. Marshal Stephen
Monier said warrants for the couple wouldn’t go away and said his office
would begin arresting and charging supporters who provide “assistance, aid
or comfort to the Browns.”
“That’s to be expected by the feds; they’re trying to scare as many people
away from supporting the Browns as they can,” said Ian Bernard, a co-host of
the libertarian radio show Free Talk Live, who’s visited the Browns in
Plainfield and speaks frequently about them on his radio show. Bernard said
the prospect of arrest shouldn’t scare supporters. “Bringing a cake to the
Browns shouldn’t be a crime.”
Monier declined to specify whether bringing food qualified as a crime, but
he said that simply visiting would be allowed.
Lauren Canario of Winchester, a Brown supporter who has been visiting the
house since Ed Brown first stopped attending his trial, also said she wasn’t
worried about being arrested. She’s faced arrest for other acts of civil
“I was expecting it from the beginning, but it won’t stop me from bringing
goodies out to the Browns,” said Canario said.
But expert watchers of the case said that the marshal’s announcement was a
smart change in strategy because it would signal that although the Browns
are currently free as fugitives, they are still criminals in the eyes of the
“I think that the authorities are right to consider charging people who are,
at the end of the day, aiding someone who is a convicted felon and who has
regularly threatened law enforcement agents with death,” said Mark Potok of
the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, including
militias and tax protesters. “I mean, I don’t think it’s jokes that this guy
is sitting up there and threatening to kill people.”
Several Brown supporters indicated this week that threats made by the Browns
and others were meant seriously. Bill Miller, a friend of Ed Brown’s, said
in an internet recording yesterday that it’s time for “forming posses,
enacting grand juries, laying down indictments and bringing the real
criminals to justice.”
Bernie Bastian, another close friend of Ed Brown’s, said Tuesday that
statements about the hanging of judges and prosecutors might be appropriate.
“They’re public servants. If they’ve violated their oath of office, they’re
treasonous. They should be hung,” he said. “They don’t wait for a trial.
They just hang them.”
The Browns were convicted in January of conspiring to evade income taxes on
nearly $1.9 million that Elaine Brown earned in her West Lebanon dental
practice, conspiring to disguise large financial transactions and disguising
large financial transactions. Elaine Brown was also convicted of multiple
counts of tax evasion and failure to withhold employment taxes for workers
in her practice.
For several months, the couple has stayed at home, warning that any attempt
to arrest them will end in a violent confrontation. Monier, who is charged
with arresting the Browns on bench warrants, has not been specific about
possible threats at the house, but he has said repeatedly that he will not
initiate a standoff or confrontation with the Browns by going to arrest
In interviews and a tour of the house last summer, Ed Brown said that the
large, hilltop home was built with eight-inch-thick concrete walls, had a
private well and could generate enough electricity to operate off the grid.
A five-story-high tower was described by the prosecutor as a “turret” at Ed
Brown’s arraignment. (Brown calls it a “deck.”)
Ed Brown has also said that the house contains a large stockpile of food,
though supporters have visited regularly since January, often bringing food
There have been suggestions that those visitors have also brought guns and
other military supplies. The Browns voluntarily turned over all their
weapons in May as a condition of their release on bail. But Ed Brown has
been seen by reporters with a gun since his trial and internet postings have
hinted that the Browns have received items on an internet “wish list,” which
called for weapons and body armor in addition to cash and paralegals. On his
daily internet radio show Monday, Ed Brown told a caller that marshals had
not removed all of his defensive “equipment” when they took guns in May.
Monier specified on Tuesday that supporters who brought guns or ammunition
to the house would be prosecuted.
As for the prison sentences themselves, if Judge Steven McAuliffe couldn’t
please everyone, he at least managed to upset both supporters and critics of
the couple. The Browns themselves seem unaffected: On Tuesday, Ed Brown went
as far as denying the existence of the sentences, the judge and the court
where he once put on his defense.
Many in the pro-Brown camp saw the sentences as unsurprising but
disappointing, part of a larger pattern of injustice brought on their
friends by the court.
“I think that they were railroaded,” said Kat Kanning of Keene, who attended
the hearings Tuesday and demonstrated outside the courthouse with a sign
that said “Fed Bullies: Leave the Browns alone.” Yesterday, Kanning said she
left the hearings “with a profound sense of sadness at the state of our
Other watchers of the movement said that McAuliffe’s sentences fell
inappropriately on the low end of the spectrum for tax protesters,
especially considering the Browns’ fugitive status and threats against
J.J. MacNab, a tax evasion expert who is writing a book about the tax
protest movement and has attended several recent tax protester trials,
described the sentences as “disappointing,” but she too was unsurprised.
“This is the same judge who didn’t see Ed and Elaine as a threat. This is a
judge who didn’t think Elaine would go home,” she said.
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