Tax Machine

A Portlander protests America's wars one small IRS check at a time.

Evan Reeves says people don't know how to protest anymore, and that the city he loves disappoints him in particular.

"There is such a large group of young, creative people here," says the 27-year-old Southwest Portlander. "And I think we can exploit that and take advantage of it and really put Portland on the radar."

Reeves—whose left arm features a tattoo of a distorted, industrialized U.S. flag that he describes as "almost anti-American"—is fed up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why he didn't pay his 2009 federal income taxes.

But when Reeves began racking up massive fees that now total more than $5,500, he decided it would only be a matter of time before the Internal Revenue Service seized his bank accounts or garnished his paychecks.

So in August, he decided to repay the money in what he calls "the most difficult way possible." Earlier this month, he sent the IRS 5,574 checks, one for each U.S. service member who had died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to that point. It proved more difficult than he had imagined. "Probably more so for myself than the IRS," says Reeves.

The Facebook application designer and amateur photographer says he wrote each check for 96 cents.

The checks and mailing process cost him between $400 and $500. He threw a "check-signing party" with some friends to enlist their help in filling in each memo box with the name of a soldier who had died.

"It felt really fun, and really awful at the same time," says Pam Allee, a 67-year-old longtime tax protester living in North Portland who attended the party. "We understood that these were people and not just letters on a page."

Allee got to know Reeves through their involvement in anti-war websites. She laments that tax protesters often back down under pressure from the IRS and never try again. She fears that without support, Reeves might do the same.

Richard Panick, the IRS's spokesman, couldn't comment whether the IRS will accept an individual's payment. But he was surprised by Reeves' method. "This is something I have not experienced," Panick says.

Reeves says he plans to take more stands against the IRS. He just doesn't know how. He would like to find a way to raise more public awareness next time for his defiance, maybe with a Last Thursday event.

Ellie Brown, a friend who graduated with Reeves from the University of Michigan and moved west with him in 2008, says Reeves' unique, passionate protest comes from the same place as his photography.

Reeves, who moved to Portland to lead a car-free, bike-happy lifestyle, has always been creative, the type of person who can always find something fun to do on a Saturday night. Once, he and Brown drove around pilfering plastic boxes and twist ties from a Kroger grocery store to build a robot on their front lawn that towered above their roof.

"The neighbors already hated us because we didn't mow our lawn," says Brown. "He had a name, but I can't remember it."

"Styrone," Reeves says with a smile. "They [the boxes] are made out of some chemical compound, polystyrene…. We wanted to give him a human quality."

Reeves is not the first creative tax protester. Allee knows of people who have paid their bills to the IRS in quarters.

On Monday, Nov. 15, Reeves left on a three-month trip to Thailand with his partner, Katie Langdon. He insists he isn't hiding from the IRS, which should know how to find him by the time he returns.

"I think he's being pretty brave. He's putting a lot on the line," says Brown. "Not many people talk [back to] the IRS."

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