More than half the film is an indictment of the income tax, which Bob Schulz, representing something called the We the People Foundation, denounces as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated by government against the working men and women of America.” Russo interviews tax resisters and disillusioned former IRS agents, who all agree with attorney Peter Gibbons’s conclusion: “There is no constitutional basis for a tax on the wages of Americans working and living in the 50 states of the Union.” Russo examines abusive actions by the IRS as well as a jury’s decision to acquit a man charged with tax evasion, because prosecutors did not produce legal authorization for taxing personal income.
Egregious abuses by the IRS would seem to support an argument for oversight, not the renunciation of internal revenue. Russo and his witnesses claim that the Sixteenth Amendment (which declares that: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes”) provides no legal basis for the progressive income tax. However, rather than just the IRS, his overarching target seems to be the entire federal government, which cannot operate the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services or provide foreign aid — functions that libertarians oppose — without taxation. Sole reliance on property, sales, and excise taxes is inequitable and shrivels the government in ways endearing to a libertarian.
The film offers a litany of other complaints — against the Federal Reserve, paperless voting machines, tasering, NAFTA, the Patriot Act, media monopolies, eminent domain, and ID chips. While Russo faults the Bush administration’s contempt for habeas corpus and contends that “The war on terror is a war on your freedom,” he also pooh-poohs the power of presidents altogether, insisting that a cabal of bankers really controls the world.
A Michael Moore wannabe, Russo takes his camera to IRS headquarters, where a security guard bounces him out, and to the streets, where strangers — stop the presses! — gripe about taxes.
The soundtrack, including a sanctimonious chorus of “America the Beautiful,” is tacky, as is the tendency to flash messages on the screen, as if cinema were a shifting billboard. “The future depends on you,” reads one startling message in a film that, despite its intent to defend your personal freedom against government coercion, will mostly tax your patience.