My Personal Program on Civil Disobedience (3) - Jeff Knaebel

"My personal program of civil disobedience" is chapter 6 of Experiments in Moral Sovereignty, The Diamond Printing Press, Jaipur, 2006 by Jeff Knaebel.

I slowly progressed in self purification and spiritual growth through meditation practice as taught by the Buddha. Unbearable became the inner moral conflict and despair arising from the knowledge that my labor - through the income tax - was supporting murder of innocent women and children at many places around the world. In order to save myself from internal disintegration, it became imperative to act.

At first I reacted out of anger and despair at the desecration which was being financed by my labor. As my meditation practice deepened, it became clear that anger was only hurting me. Anger was doing nothing to cure human ignorance, which is the root cause of evil. Gradually I desisted from putting more fuel on the fire of anger. Anger attenuated and was replaced with first forgiveness, and then compassion for those people caught in the great MNC killing machine. The call to action metamorphosed into anguished love with malice towards none.

Now, my actions are designed with such mindfulness as I can muster to rotate anger at a system gone mad with the violence of its greed into compassion for evil doers, while dissociating myself from them and from the system. I am doing my best to walk the path pointed by Buddha and Gandhi: self purification through meditation, renunciation of worldly pleasures and comforts, combined with a constructive program of humanitarian service.

Guided by Gandhi, I undertook a moral inventory of my deeds in relation to my government. I had served my country across a span of thirty years in a range of voluntary humanitarian and public service. As an officer of the US Navy, I had served in Vietnam during that horrible war. My work had received awards and recognition from all levels of citizenship, including local community organizations, a State governor, a Secretary of the US Cabinet, and the President. As an entrepreneur, I had founded companies that created hundreds of jobs and financed a lot of kids through school, paid a lot of taxes. I founded nonprofit charitable organizations, co-created a new Montessori School, an adult learning center and indigenous social programs. I did significant work in the largest Native American land settlement in history. I had obeyed the laws of my country. To this extent I had earned the moral authority to make my decision.

I examined the possibilities of actual, practical, timely administrative recourse in terms of an individual obtaining permission to cease filing and paying income taxes on the basis of conscience. It is my natural right to act as an individual and not be required to be a member of an "authorized" religious organization. No organization has moral sovereignty over my conscience.

I have had long personal experience with government at all levels including the judiciary. They are not bona fide repositories of high moral wisdom. The closer the approach to inner circles of power, the more pervasive are corruption and the lie. I and my companies had been through tax audits with 100% clean marks. Some of my acquaintances were not so lucky. I am well informed of the abuse of citizens through tax audits. The invasive procedures of auditors into personal affairs of citizens are an unwarranted violation of The Bill of Rights. The power to tax is the power to destroy. The lives of many citizens have been destroyed by IRS abuses. These methods keep the public intimidated. Those who request to keep back the "war tax" portion of their payment on the basis of religion are flagged for special treatment and subjected to harassment. It is vicious.

I studied these matters for long. Based upon my observations and common sense, it is clear that a citizen acting as an individual has no chance against the government in matters of conscientious objection to the income tax. The destructive activities of the military-industrial-political complexes are so systemically embedded that withholding the "war portion" of a tax is ineffective. It would be like trying to distinguish blood corpuscles which serve the liver from those that serve the lung.

The State has framed the rules. I cannot prevail in a petition brought within the bounds of the self same rules which my conscience requires me to disobey. I can only act as guided by my conscience in response to my perception of events and my understanding of a civil human society. My choice as a moral being was to take the path of civil disobedience.

It is incomprehensible that any government has a moral right to force a person to kill, or through taxation to finance murder and even mass extermination of innocent human beings. How can I support war crimes, human rights violations, crimes against humanity? During the past fifty years the US government has built an inhuman machinery of escalating violence that threatens all life with extinction. The government, having no moral right to require my participation, must rely on brute force to coerce my payment of taxes. Certainly this meets the test of "a great and unendurable tyranny." If I submit to this, I become a slave. I cannot obey the law without violating my conscience and my loyalty to the human race. My choice was to participate as an automaton in the organized, systematic destruction of life or to withdraw from participation in the corporate controlled society. The only safe and honorable course for me to keep my self respect was to disobey and willingly face the penalties.

These words are not by way of defense, but simply a description so that rational people may have a basis for understanding my actions. I am a simple human being trying to live my ideals. If I run afoul of the State, let it do with me as it wishes.

Having tried hard to understand the Law of Ahimsa, to meet its prerequisites in my personal life, to prepare myself for self purification and a life of sacrifice and to embark upon a program of constructive humanitarian service, I committed myself to a personal solo program of civil disobedience.

I hereby declare that I have deliberately disobeyed the tax regulations of my country (but not the underlying Constitution). I make distinction between regulation, law, and Constitution because I believe them to be inconsistent and because law and regulation are so complex and permeated with obfuscation as to be incomprehensible to me. The regulations as promulgated in IRS publications seem clear on one point: if a person fails to file and pay taxes due, he is subject to civil and criminal penalties. I hereby serve notice upon authorities of the US government that I have deliberately failed to file tax returns as an act of conscious civil disobedience. I also declare that no taxes are due, as will be set forth in the following.

I admit that I have often been unable to act according to the highest moral law, which rules thought as well as word and deed. This does not invalidate the law. It demonstrates the practical difficulties. Geometry is not less true because I may not be able to draw a straight line. I can only take one step at a time. The point of beginning is my capability for nonviolence now, to be improved one day at a time. The point of departure for moral practice is prevailing morality, which must be changed, one action at a time towards the goal.

Upon making the decision to cease filing and paying income tax, I undertook a radical reorganization of my life. I would have to emigrate, to become a "tax exile." It would not be right to benefit from the facilities and protection of my country while not paying my share. Reorganization had to be in gradual steps bemuse of obligations to children. Only when the youngest reached majority could I make the final move. Withdrawing from my businesses, I began devoting myself to a wide range of humanitarian service without pay. I ceased generating income and lived on savings. Personal property of every description was sold to the point of a simple lifestyle. Stocks and securities were sold at substantial losses. Corporate and partnership businesses were divested at large losses. These losses generated a large “net operating loss carry forward” for tax purposes.

No income tax would be due for remainder of my life. As a tax protestor I cannot in good conscience make a claim for Social Security retirement benefits. The funds I paid to Social Security over a period of more than forty years are lost to me. It is part of the price of freedom. The needs of my simple lifestyle could be met out of savings on which taxes had already been paid.

Knowing that deposits at interest are indiscriminately loaned to government and business engaged in destruction of life, I abstained from interest-bearing instruments. I had come to see interest “earnings” as the wages of death.

When my youngest child reached majority, I moved to India. I ceased filing tax returns. Demands by mail notwithstanding, I believe that filing is not required if the taxpayer has no income. In my circumstances, the demands for information are an unwarranted violence upon my person, my privacy, my right to personal security and to be left alone to pursue my peaceful life. I will not respond. I declare myself to be a free man, no longer a slave to the great corporate government killing machine.

The path of civil disobedience marked out by Gandhi requires self-sacrifice, self-purification, and a constructive humanitarian program to run alongside the action of non- cooperation with evil. Here in an Indian village I rent two rooms of stone and mud, take two meals per day of rice, lentils and chapatti, bathe with a bucket of hand-carried cold water and use the same open field toilet as my Indian hosts. My basic cost of living is about 2000 rupees per month (less than $50). I maintain a practice of Buddhist meditation, practice eight precepts to the extent capable and fast for one day each week. I have helped build two meditation retreat centers and am working towards a third. I tutor English, do voluntary service at meditation centers, help build village schools, establish libraries, sponsor education of refugee children and a tuberculosis program, and assist in agricultural and reforestation work. I work to contribute to the pool of quietude and peace in human consciousness, to balm the brutality of Western imperialism, to save our ecosystem from destruction. I organize my life around the ultimate goal of Self -Realization, the birthright of every human being.

My decision to undertake civil disobedience through emigration and self imposed exile has entailed some hardship and risk. The life of an aging foreigner alone and homeless in India is not easy. It is painful to be separated from family, friends, and homeland. There are problems with safe water, food, health, sanitation, and personal security. The cold of snowy winter in unheated rooms is penetrating. Support arrangements are unstable and keep on dissolving. Obstacles of language and culture are daunting. It is a two day journey by jeep, bus, and train to the nearest bona fide medical doctor. Hospitals of which I have personal knowledge are filthy and septic. Disease is prevalent, civil disturbances are rampant, and war is an ever-present threat. Everywhere I witness poverty, misery, and suffering.

I mention the above only to serve as verifiable background against future actions of nonviolent civil disobedience that are beginning to present themselves to my mind. We do not have a lot of time remaining in which to save ourselves from self-destruction. The looming crises of water and failure of agriculture are powerful “weapons of mass destruction,” leave aside the threat of nuclear holocaust. Simply withdrawing from participation in the “system” may not be of sufficient moral vigor.

The text is published here with courtesy of the author.

Jeff Knaebel manages three websites :
Free of state
Trees of tomorrow
Gandhi Padyatra

See a video about Jeff here

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