Op-ed column: Government is using all four hooves to shake off a gadfly

Political activists are often referred to pejoratively as gadflies. When one realizes that the liter

Political activists are often referred to pejoratively as gadflies.

When one realizes that the literal definition of a gadfly is a fly that bites and annoys livestock, some of the sting is removed from the slur.

If a political activist is a gadfly, then the person he or she is attacking may very well be a jackass.

Queensbury resident and political activist Bob Schulz has been annoying New York state and federal officials for almost 30 years.

He has won several lawsuits (and lost several) in an attempt to get state and federal officials to follow the only thing they pledge to protect — the U.S. Constitution and the New York state Constitution.

Schulz’s attacks in recent years have focused on the federal government. He opposes the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq, and the Federal Reserve Bank among other things, but his primary focus lately has been the IRS. This time the donkey is using all four hooves in attempt to destroy the gadfly.

For some time now, Schulz has been distributing a “tax termination package” on his Web sites and through other venues, which explains to individuals how they can stop having income taxes withheld from their pay. From studying Schulz’s materials, I have concluded that he is not a tax cheat as a few people have described him. Rather he is a highly principled man who believes individuals have a constitutional right to put their taxes in escrow, rather than forward them to the government, when they have grievances against the government that the government has refused to address. It’s not unlike withholding your rent payment when a landlord refuses to fix your broken toilet.

Judge takes a stance

In late 2007, the federal government asked the U. S. District Court in Syracuse to order Schulz and his We The People Foundation and We The People Congress to stop distributing information about terminating withholding. Judge Thomas J. McAvoy sided with the government and ordered Schulz to stop distributing the information. Schulz has appealed. He is also planning to begin a hunger strike in August if his issues with the government are not resolved.

McAvoy’s order may very well violate Schulz’s right of freedom of speech. Schulz believes that the information he is disseminating is legal and accurate. Even if it can be proved, however, that Schulz is giving out false information, doesn’t the First Amendment protect the dissemination of false information? If it doesn’t, a large percentage of Web sites on the Internet should be shut down.

What disturbs me, however, is that while McAvoy has silenced Schulz in one area, he is trying to compel him to speak in other areas.

Judge McAvoy not only ordered Schulz to stop distributing information about income taxes, he required that Schulz post his order on his Web sites. He has also ordered Schulz to turn over the identities of everyone who has downloaded information from his Web sites.

This is not the first time Judge McAvoy has tried to compel people to speak. When he served as judge in the case of the St. Patrick’s Four, members of the Ithaca Catholic Worker movement who spilled their own blood in protest at a recruiting center two days before the United States invaded Iraq, McAvoy charged one defendant, Peter DeMott, with contempt for refusing to name people who may have encouraged him to do what he did. McAvoy charged another defendant in the same trial with contempt for refusing to say who drew the blood from his arm.

By the way, in the trial of the St. Patrick’s Four, which was held in Binghamton, McAvoy would not let the defendants discuss the illegality of the Iraq war, international law, the Geneva Convention, the Doctrine of Necessity, facts or statistics about the Iraq war, etc.

Right to remain silent

The U.S. Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court rulings have made it clear that a defendant has the right to remain silent when questioned by the police and the right to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination. But apparently one does not have the right to remain silent to avoid incriminating someone else or in Bob Schulz’s case the right to remain silent to protect the identities of people whose only “crime” has been to access information from a Web site.

Obviously, the federal government is on a fishing trip. They want the information from Schulz to see if anyone who obtained the information put it into practice.

It seems to me that Bob Schulz not only has the right to speak out against what he perceives as illegal activities by the IRS, but he also has the right to remain silent when the government tries to coerce him to speak. Silence is actually a powerful speech act — think about that the next time your spouse gives you the silent treatment—and should receive the same protection from the Constitution as speech does.

In case you have forgotten, McAvoy is also the judge who made it difficult for the defendants and their lawyers to view documents in the case of U.S. vs. Yassin Muhiddin Aref and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain in Albany. The judge agreed with the government that many of these documents were classified. He even issued a classified order, when the defendants’ lawyers made a motion to dismiss the case.

Apparently, Judge McAvoy believes the government has the right to silence and secrecy, but not the citizens from whom the power of the government is derived.

Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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