Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Death of a tax martyr

Irwin SchiffWhen people talk about courage in defence of principle, the name of Irwin Schiff (right) should be foremost among them.

Irwin Schiff was imprisoned for his lifelong resistance to the American federal income tax, and over the weekend in a federal prison, a martyr to that resistance. Efforts by his son, Peter Schiff, to secure his release from prison so that he could die with his family were not just unsuccessful, but actively resisted. Schiff's sad passing illustrates two essential truth about taxation and the state: 1) if you resist the state’s orders, you will be dealt with by force; and 2) like it or not, behind every tax code lies a gun.

Peter Schiff posted this eulogy to his dad, calling it: Death of a Patriot.

My father Irwin A. Schiff was born Feb. 23rd 1928, the 8th child and only son of Jewish immigrants, who had crossed the Atlantic twenty years earlier in search of freedom. As a result of their hope and courage my father was fortunate to have been born into the freest nation in the history of the world.  But when he passed away on Oct. 16th, 2015 at the age of 87, a political prisoner of that same nation, legally blind and shackled to a hospital bed in a guarded room in intensive care, the free nation he was born into had itself died years earlier.

My father had a life-long love affair with our nation’s founding principles and proudly served his country during the Korean War, for a while even having the less-than-honourable distinction of being the lowest-ranking American soldier in Europe.  While in college he became exposed to the principles of Austrian economics through the writings of Henry Hazlitt and Frederick Hayek. He first became active in politics during Barry Goldwater’s failed 1964 presidential bid. His activism intensified during the Vietnam Era when he led local grass root efforts to resist Yale University’s plans to conduct aid shipments to North Vietnam at a time when that nation was actively fighting U.S. forces in the south. Later in life he staged an unsuccessful write in campaign for governor of Connecticut, then eventually lost the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination to Harry Brown in 1996.

imageIn 1976 his beliefs in free market economics, limited government, and strict interpretation of the Constitution led him to write his first book The Biggest Con: How the Government is Fleecing You, a blistering indictment of the post New Deal expansion of government in the United States. The book achieved accolades in the mainstream conservative world, receiving a stellar review in the Wall Street Journal, among other mainstream publications.

But my father was most known for his staunch opposition to the Federal Income Tax, for which the Federal Government labelled him a “tax protester.”  But he had no objection to lawful, reasonable taxation.  He was not an anarchist and believed that the state had an important, but limited role to play in market based economy.  He opposed the Federal Government’s illegal and unconstitutional enforcement and collection of the income tax.   His first book on this topic (he authored six books in total) How Anyone Can Stop Paying Income Taxes, published in 1982 became a New York Times best seller.  His last, The Federal Mafia; How the Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully collects Income Taxes, the first of three editions published in 1992, became the only non-fiction, and second and last book to be banned in America.  The only other book being Fanny Hill; Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, banned for obscenity in 1821 and 1963.

His crusade to force the government to obey the law earned him three prison sentences, the final one being a fourteen-year sentence that he began serving ten years ago, at the age of 77.   That sentence turned into a life sentence, as my father failed to survive until his planned 2017 release date. However in actuality the life sentence amounted to a death sentence.  My father died from skin cancer that went undiagnosed and untreated while he was in federal custody.  The skin cancer then led to a virulent outbreak of lung cancer that took his life just more than two months after his initial diagnosis.

imageThe unnecessarily cruel twist in his final years occurred seven years ago when he reached his 80th birthday. At that point the government moved him from an extremely low security federal prison camp in New York State where he was within easy driving distance from family and friends, to a federal correctional institute, first in Indiana and then in Texas.  This was done specially to give him access to better medical care.  The trade off was that my father was forced to live isolated from those who loved him.  Given that visiting him required long flights, car rentals, and hotel stays, his visits were few and far between.   Yet while at these supposed superior medical facilities, my father received virtually no medical care at all, not even for the cataracts that left him legally blind, until the skin cancer on his head had spread to just about every organ in his body.

At the time of his diagnosis in early August of this year, he was given four to six mouths to live.  We tried to get him out of prison on compassionate release so that he could live out the final months of his life with his family, spending some precious moments with the grandchildren he had barely known.  But he did not live long enough for the bureaucratic process to be completed.  Two months after the process began, despite the combined help of a sitting Democratic U.S. congresswoman and a Republican U.S. senator, his petition was still sitting on someone’s desk waiting for yet another signature, even though everyone at the prison actually wanted him released.   Even as my father lay dying in intensive care, a phone call came in from a lawyer and the Bureau of Prisons in Washington asking the prison medical representatives for more proof of the serious nature of my father’s condition.

imageAs the cancer consumed him his voice changed, and the prison phone system no longer recognised it, so he could not even talk with family members on the phone during his finale month of life.  When his condition deteriorated to the point where he needed to be hospitalized, government employees blindly following orders kept him shackled to his bed.   This despite the fact that escape was impossible for an 87 year old terminally ill, legally-blind patient who could barely breathe, let alone walk.

Whether or not you agree with my father’s views on the Federal Income Tax, or the manner by which it is collected, it’s hard to condone the way he was treated by our government.   He held his convictions so sincerely and so passionately that he continued to espouse them until his dying breath.  Like William Wallace in the final scene of Braveheart, an oppressive government may have succeeded in killing him, but they did not break his spirit.    And that spirit will live on in his books, his videos, and in his children and grandchildren.  

Hopefully his legacy will one day help restore the lost freedoms he died trying to protect, finally allowing him to rest in peace.

imagePeter Schiff is the son of Irwin Schiff.  CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author of six books, including How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes, Crash Proof 2.0: How to Profit From the Economic Collapse, and The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy---How to Save Yourself and Your Country, he is host of the syndicated Peter Schiff Show—and one of the few who famously predicted the collapse of the American housing bubble.
This tribute first appeared at Peter’s Euro Pacific Capital blog, and appears by permission.


  1. A great story of courage of convictions. Now, go and do likewise.


  2. I read Peter Schiff, but had no idea on the history of his father. Good bloke.

  3. What I admire about Irwin Schiff is that he was willing to go to jail for his principles. Unlike Ayn Rand who betrayed her principles in order to collect welfare.

    1. Barry, below I've put a link to a free dictionary (because you probably wouldn't pay for anything.


      Now look up 'fatuous'.

    2. Didn't need a dictionary Mark. I assume you wouldn't need one to know the definition of 'hypocrite' which incidentally applies both to yourself and the welfare recipient you are defending.

    3. And my martyrdom to the tax state, which would change nothing, would be for what purpose Barry?

      Other than whinge on here, do you do anything to try and may 'your' world a better place?

    4. So you're commenting on an article about Irwin Schiff to argue that having principles is a waste of time. You have the ethics of a politician.

      At least you're up-front about it.

    5. "Morally, no one can give advice in any issue [like paying tax] where choices and decisions are not voluntary: "Morality ends where a gun begins." As to the practical alternatives available, the best thing to do is to consult a good lawyer.
      There is, however, one moral aspect of the issue that needs clarification. Some ... seem to labor under the misapprehension that since [taxation] is a violation of their rights, compliance with [tax] law would constitute a moral sanction of that violation. This is a serious error. A forced compliance is not a sanction. All of us are forced to comply with many laws that violate our rights, but so long as we advocate the repeal of such laws, our compliance does not constitute a sanction. Unjust laws have to be fought ideologically; they cannot be fought or corrected by means of mere disobedience and futile martyrdom. To quote from an editorial on this subject in the April 1967 issue of 'Persuasion': "One does not stop the juggernaut by throwing oneself in front of it....")"
      ~ Ayn Rand, from 'The Wreckage of the Consensus,' 1967 [talking about the military draft in the original but, you know, principles ...]

    6. Yes that. To Barry the Brave. Barry the Bombastic Git.

    7. That Ayn Rand quote is in direct contradiction to the Frederick Douglass quote below. This is the problem with libertarians: very few of them actually walk the walk. And because of this the ones that do (such as Irwin Schiff) are both heroic & futile at the same time.

      The libertarian movement will never be taken seriously while there are so-called proponents such as Ayn Rand, Roger Douglas etc. who talk the talk then rationalise helping themselves to taxpayer money.

    8. In fact, they're perfectly complementary.

  4. I hope the satisfaction he took in taking his principles to such extreme ends was worth it. My duty of care and love as a mother would take precedence. That in no way constitutes a criticism of this man. But we all have our limits.

    1. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do noting. Our freedoms come with eternal vigilance. As a father and grand father I want my kids and grand kids to be free to be able to live their lives as they see fit and not to be under the thumb of some overbearing state, as slaves.

    2. @LIndsay: Oh, sure. We do each need to choose our battles. We do all have our limits. But as Frederick Douglass might remind us, "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

    3. A much easier way to register a protest against the IRS and its enablers would have been for Irwin Schiff to leave the U.S., renounce his citizenship, and make millions elsewhere. Starve the beast, so to speak. A shame he chose to sacrifice himself like that. Let's hope it wasn't in vain, but I have a feeling that aside from readers of libertarian blogs, this piece of news won't even register a blip in the lamestream media.

  5. Sounds like an American version of Penny Bright.


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