The Risk of Telephone
War Tax Resistance
Refusing to pay the federal excise tax on your phone bill is an act
of civil disobedience. It is an act of noncooperation with authorities
in the tradition of nonviolent activists such as Henry David Thoreau,
who refused to pay taxes for the Mexican War; Gandhi’s Indian “Salt
Marchers,” who refused to purchase British-produced and mandated
salt; and the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who refused to pay
their federal phone tax during the Vietnam War.
The risks of this particular act of civil disobedience are minimal, primarily
because the individual tax amounts involved are small.
• You may receive letters or “bills” from the IRS for the small
amounts due, which will include interest and penalties added to the original
amount you resisted.
• The IRS has the power to pursue collection, but because the amounts are
small, the efforts to collect the tax are much more expensive than the lost revenue
itself. In recent decades the IRS has not pursued collection for small amounts
• Even if the IRS does collect, the amounts -- even with interest and penalties
-- are too small to hurt anyone economically.
• No one has ever spent any time in jail for phone tax resistance. You
are likely to spend more time “educating” phone company employees
about your resistance than in dealing with the IRS (see next section below).
• It is possible as the campaign grows that the government and IRS will
decide to take stronger actions than phone tax resisters have experienced in
• You will feel good about taking this small step to cut off the money
Risks of Going Public
Perhaps the greatest risk in joining this campaign of nonviolent phone
tax resistance comes from publicly announcing your opposition to current
U.S. policies, and your intention to act on that conviction. The Hang
Up On War! campaign will never sell, trade, or otherwise give your name
and information to any organization, company or government agency for
any reason, but in these days of the “Patriot Act” and other
incursions into our civil liberties, it is certainly possible that officials
of the current Administration will monitor this site.
Surveillance and related intimidation techniques have often been used against
those who struggle most valiantly against injustice. And while the possibility
in this instance cannot be dismissed, we still strongly and unequivocally encourage
everyone who is opposed to the violent and dangerous policies of “pre-emptive
war” and an endless war on terrorism to join us in this nationally coordinated
act of resistance and noncooperation. The method of nonviolence pioneered by
Gandhi, King and others teaches us that we make our greatest strides toward
social change and freedom when we are willing to take personal risks and make
sacrifices, however small they might be at first. We hope that your experience
with Hang Up On War! will empower you to increase your own involvement with
nonviolence and nonviolent resistance, what Gandhi called his “experiments
Will My Phone Service Be Disconnected?
Generally, your phone company cannot legally disconnect your phone service
for nonpayment of the tax. IRS regulations (Code of Federal Regulations,
sect. 49.4291-1, title 26; 1996) clearly state that the phone company
is supposed to collect the tax, but has no power to enforce collection.
Their role is only to report the resister to the IRS. In the past the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that AT&T (holding
a long distance monopoly at the time) could not cut off phone service
to federal tax resisters.
However, because there are so many new companies, some may not yet be fully
aware of their responsibilities, and you may need to explain to the phone company
representative you speak with that the company should credit your bill each
month and report the refused amount to the IRS. If the amount continues to
add up over a number of months, be sure to call the company and ask for it
to be credited (ask for a supervisor if the first person you speak with is
not helpful). Resisters have had mixed results with cell phone companies, but
there have been successes in refusing the federal excise tax. Consider the
time you deal with the phone company all part of the resistance effort!
Some companies have established special billing accommodations for war tax
resisters and will provide you with a form (others may send you forms for a “tax
exempt” status, which are inappropriate in the case of war tax resistance).
Contact one of the organizations listed on this website if you need help or
if your company is threatening to cut off your phone service.