FRONT PAGE - ABOVE THE FOLD
By: BRIAN CALLAWAY (Tue, Aug/12/2003)
NORTHAMPTON - It's difficult to reconcile the certifiably charming man in front of you with the headlines:
"Tax rebels to face day of reckoning in court," "Are tax rebels 'patriots?' " and "Tax protesters 'stepped beyond the bounds of the law.' "
"Now," asks the 72-year-old Holland man at the end of a 90-minute interview, "would you believe I'm the big, bad Bob Graham?"
Well, no - and yes.
A big man with cottony hair and a face that, at times, is definitively jolly, Graham looks more like the ideal Santa Claus - indeed, he used to play that part at a Philadelphia hospital - than the convicted felon that he is.
But get him talking about today's tax crusaders - garnering new attention nationally via the Internet and locally due to a candidate for county commissioner - and the old fighter comes alive.
"One thing about the American people," Graham said, "once they find out they've been screwed...the avalanche is going to be so big."
This is a man who argued the federal government didn't have the legal authority to tax most citizens the way it does, and who paid no federal income taxes during the late 1970s and early 1980s - instead he stamped
the words "Fifth Amendment" on each line on his return.
He's a man who helped head up a group, the Committee for Constitutional Taxation, that, among other stunts, held an anti-tax parade in Philadelphia with participants dressed as IRS agents in Gestapo uniforms.
He's also a man who's changed.
Graham was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service for encouraging others to evade income taxes, and spent 31 months in the Danbury Correctional Institution - or "hell" as he calls it, declining to say anything more of the place.
He grudgingly admits he pays his federal income taxes now, and has ever since he was released from the federal prison in 1987.
Graham said he's following the rules for Betty, his wife of 52 years.
"My wife always says to me, 'after you got out of jail, you promised,' " he said. "I've got a marriage that's damned good. I don't want to mess it up anymore.
"But if she dies, it'll be the last time I file a form."
Now, Graham is settling into a life of retirement. He turned his investment-consulting firm over to a son only a few weeks ago, and despite the rheumatoid arthritis that now hobbles him, wants to focus on Betty, their seven children and 17 grandchildren.
But he won't spend all of his time with them.
Graham isn't front-and-center in the anti-tax movement anymore, but he's carved out a role for himself on the sidelines.
"I'm ready to pass the mantle on," he said. "All I'm doing is acting like the senior statesman."
It's a role Betty is clearly uncomfortable with.
"I don't want him in it," she said, calmly but also a little bitter. "They haven't made it any further since all the stuff in the 1970s. It hasn't budged an inch - been there, done that."
But Graham is convinced things will change once people hear more.
Last year he finished a book, "April 15th: The Fear Factor," about his beliefs and his experiences with the federal judicial system, and he has a Web site where he explains his views and answers questions about the tax system.
He said he's volunteered to be a witness for other tax activists who may face trial, such as Libertarian Bucks County commissioner candidate Arthur Farnsworth.
He's also thrown his support behind the 27th amendment, a proposal by anti-tax groups to repeal the 16th amendment - which they say improperly gave taxation authority to the government - and disband the IRS.
The last part is especially important to him. Along with letters to area representatives, Graham said revoking the country's tax laws should clear the way for what he most wants - the expunging of his criminal record.
"I don't want to die a convicted felon," he said, his face for the first time definitively not jolly. "What they put me through, what they put my wife through...I don't think they had the right to do what they did."
Brian Callaway can be contacted via
e-mail at email@example.com .
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Wednesday, August 13, 2003