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The Nation | COLUMN ONE

Evading death and taxes

A couple have been holed up for months, refusing to pay the IRS or go to prison. They say it's a battle for freedom, and it could end in bloodshed.

July 20, 2007|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Plainfield, N.H. — SHE sits on the lookout in a lawn chair on their front porch, her forehead glossy with sweat, Bible next to her left foot, wind chimes clinking at her back. Her husband of 24 years is by her side, German shepherd at his knee, handgun tucked beneath the belt on his jeans.

High in these humid hills, Ed and Elaine Brown have been holed up in their home for six months, refusing to serve a five-year prison sentence for tax evasion. They all but dared law officials to come and get them. This, they say, is a fight they're ready to die for.

"Show me the law!" says Ed, a trim 64-year-old with a silver mustache, whose forehead crinkles when he gets heated. The Browns stopped paying income taxes in 1996. They say the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions support their claims that ordinary labor cannot be taxed. But a judge ruled against them in January, convicting the Browns of conspiring to evade paying taxes on $1.9 million in income from Elaine's dentistry practice.

Now, the Browns say they're in a battle for freedom, and it just might end in bloodshed right here, in a towering turreted house with 8-inch-thick concrete walls and an American flag fluttering over the double-car garage. They have garnered national support, with blogs devoted to news about the standoff and supporters regularly showing up on the couple's doorstep with groceries.

Government and law officials have cut off power, Internet, house phone, cellphone, television and mail service to the couple's 110-acre compound. But their house is equipped with solar panels, a watchtower, a satellite dish and a stockpile of food.

"We are self-sustained like a ship," Ed says. "We don't need power from the shore to run the ship."

FBI agents are trying to avoid a deadly shootout reminiscent of Waco, Texas, or Ruby Ridge, Idaho. They have tried negotiating, waiting, begging.

"We are proceeding carefully to make sure no one gets hurt," says U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier, the lead officer handling the siege. "We are aware that there are guns in there."

Monier says the couple broke the law and should turn themselves in peacefully. "They have been tried and convicted and sentenced."

But the Browns aren't budging.

"You remember that little gentleman in China, Tiananmen Square?" Ed says, peering through his sunglasses. "He was the same as we are. You can scare me, you can kill me, but you can't intimidate me."

"We're fighting for you, your country," adds Elaine, 66, a calm woman with short, wavy dark hair. "This isn't just taxes."

"There's no more America," Ed says. "It's already gone."

"I'll die fighting, rather than live in slavery," Elaine says. "I'll tell you that."


THE mountain air outside the Browns' home is hot and thick with flies. On the shaded front porch overlooking a small duck pond, a visitor in a straw hat -- who drove his pickup truck for two days from Texas to meet the Browns -- eats grapes out of a paper bag and flips through an issue of Shotgun News magazine. He introduces himself as Doug. His last name is Tibbetts, he says, "like that guy who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima."

Another guest, who refuses to give his name and makes it a point to tell everyone he is armed, drove here from Massachusetts. He talks about illegal immigration and government corruption in a slow deep drip of a voice that seems to irritate Ed, who frequently cuts him off.

The government, Ed says, is at a point of "communism in its purist form."

Elaine nods.

"It's not communism though," says the Massachusetts man. "It's totalitarianism."

"It's Marxism," interjects Tibbetts, 60.

"No, no, no, guys, guys, don't give me that," says Ed, raising his voice. "I've done 15 years of research here."

Since the standoff began, the Browns' home has turned into a commune for anti-government activists. Admirers from across the country make their way to the secluded home on Center of Town Road in Plainfield, population 2,200, in a state where license plates carry the motto "Live Free or Die."

To get to the Browns' house, travelers ascend along a jagged gravel and dirt road, stopping at a silver sign nailed to a tree trunk on the couple's property, which warns: "If not friendly, Go, Go Away!" Unable to telephone the Browns and notify them of their arrival, some visitors proceed slowly down the long driveway or attach small flags to their trucks to show that they've come in peace.

The guests often come bearing gifts: hamburger buns, ginger ale, cellphones with prepaid minutes, gun ammunition. Someone gave the Browns their German shepherd, named Zoey. The visitors pitch tents in the Browns' yard or sleep inside the house. Some bring laptops from which they manage the Browns' blog and MySpace page, both created by volunteers.

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