Save-A-Patriot battles bureaucrats

June 18, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

John Kotmair and his band of no-tax radicals have for more than a decade declared an ideological war on the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Reserve, the Democrats, the Republicans, the police and just about anybody else on the public payroll.

Taxes? Illegal. The nation's currency? Worthless. Most politicians? Sellouts.

From a cramped office in Westminster, Mr. Kotmair is Maryland's version of the anti-tax, anti-government rebels that have won so much attention since the Oklahoma City bombing. Mr. Kotmair and his Save-A-Patriot Fellowship aren't a militia; he hasn't called for an armed response to the "despotic deceivers" who run the government, and he doesn't march around with guns.

But he does publish rhetoric strikingly similar to that of the militia movement. He owes the IRS more than $600,000 and spent two years in a federal prison on a 1982 tax evasion conviction. And he and 20 employees of his foundation keep cranking out anti-tax leaflets, newsletters and brochures.

"Tired of being conned and railroaded into paying taxes which you do not owe, to be squandered by ARROGANT BUREAUCRATS? You are invited to join in a national Fellowship with other Patriotic Americans whose only goal is to LEARN, REVIVE And PRESERVE our UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION," reads a membership pitch. "You can serve your country and NOT FEAR reprisals from bureaucratic THUGS."

Those "bureaucratic thugs" refuse to characterize their recent actions as reprisals, but the IRS does take a dim view of anyone the agency says owes more than a half-million dollars.

Since December 1993 -- when the fellowship's office and Kotmair's home were raided by IRS agents -- the IRS has been taking a close look into the group's finances.

"They'll try anything to justify not paying taxes," said Dominic LaPonzina, the IRS' spokesman in Baltimore.

But Save-A-Patriot is more than an anti-tax organization. Recent issues of its newsletter, Reasonable Action, proclaim in boxed letters to readers that it "is a first-amendment association whose purpose is to see that IRS and other government personnel obey the law."

Mr. Kotmair and his followers are not reluctant to share their views with outsiders. For three years, they have invited officials from the IRS to send someone to observe what Save-A-Patriot does at its headquarters.

The IRS has declined the invitation.

Pledge is recited

At a recent Saturday night meeting in the blue-draped conference room in the back of SAP's office, more than two dozen fellowship members recited, at Mr. Kotmair's direction, this pledge:

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, and with liberty and justice for all -- and I'm willing to fight for it."

The members then listened as Mr. Kotmair outlined the IRS' inability to follow its own rules. Using his own tax case as a backdrop, he showed the group -- under a portrait of George Washington, amid framed copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution -- how they, too, can bring the IRS to its knees by asking highly technical questions of its employees.

Line by line, page by page, Mr. Kotmair guided his charges through the tax code, explaining how the sections seemed contradictory.

To dismiss Save-A-Patriot and John Kotmair as irrational zealots would be inaccurate and grossly unfair, says Baltimore radio talk-show host -- and SAP supporter -- Zoh Hieronimus.

The whole patriot movement has been singled out by politicians and mainstream media as a ranting band of illiterates without reasoned opinions who are the subject of a "patriot witch hunt," the popular WCBM personality said.

The movement is "highly educated . . . [and] not a backwoods bunch of bumpkins," Ms. Hieronimus said.

Of the Save-A-Patriot Fellowship, Ms. Hieronimus says their "research is precise, their goals are honorable." She said the fellowship's intent -- like that of most patriots across the country -- is a restoration of the republic they believe was laid out in the Constitution.

She and those in the Save-A-Patriot movement do not advocate lawlessness, they don't advocate a society without government and they don't promote violence. Instead, she said, they seek a return to constitutional government, with a clear separation of the three branches and the return of "national sovereignty."

America cannot "surrender to the global marketplace" and cede itself to the interests of corporations and other controllers of capital, she said.

Mr. Kotmair, now in his 60s, was a Westminster homebuilder who founded SAP's predecessor, the Committee of Correspondence, in the early 1970s. The committee -- about 200 strong -- claimed that most Americans do not owe income taxes.

That belief ran afoul of the IRS, which in 1980 sought an indictment against Mr. Kotmair for not filing his 1975 and 1976 returns.

In his return for 1974, he attached a letter to his 1040 form.

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