It is a decrepit building with a sagging, watermarked ceiling and a lone, yellow light bulb illuminating the dim interior. Inside are stacks of law tomes and thick, three-ring binders; chairs with the stuffing bursting from the seams and battered old desks are covered with mounds of crumpled paper. Bits of half-eaten food sit atop the paper mountains, and a thick, musty smell pervades all.
On this day, a young man with long, blond, greasy hair--who says he stops by Houston Mesa "now and then to learn more about how the world works"--sits listening attentively as Gehring tries to explain the Constitutionalist creed. According to Gehring, here's why paying federal income taxes is not only unnecessary, but downright evil:
"Interpol, you see," Gehring begins, his eyes glistening through the murk of the law office, "is a direct descendant of Hitler's secret police. It is headquartered in Lyon, France. The Internal Revenue Service has an overseas headquarters in Lyon, too.
"See? It all fits together."
The young man grins, nodding enthusiastically. "Yeah, man. Right on. Those bastards!"
An uninitiated reporter, however, isn't such a quick study. So Ellena expands on the definition:
Over time, a group of international businessmen and politicians, represented by the United Nations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations, has hatched a plan to institute a global government--one that will deprive Americans of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
To finance this global tyranny, these clandestine imperialists have introduced the income tax.
But what most Americans don't know is that the 16th Amendment, on which the income tax is based, was never really ratified by the states.
Nor do they know that paying income tax is voluntary, and that they should have the option of declining to pay. Of course, the government does not respect that constitutionally granted option, so other avenues to avoid taxes must be found.
And it is imperative that they be found soon, because the insidious foreign plotters are even now planning--through their agents in the IRS, Interpol, the Federal Reserve Bank and the UN--to send foreign troops into the United States to establish martial law, end all private property ownership and confiscate all guns.
A repressive New World Order will result, with mankind at large descending into a state of wretched poverty while the lucky few live as kings on the fruits of our tax dollars.
That, of course, is only the main trunk of the Constitutionalist tree--there are countless gnarled branches dealing with the roles played in the international conspiracy by communism, AIDS, the pope, Freemasonry and even the Beatles.
It is, in its own way, an ingenious, complete world view, one not done justice by a brief synopsis. It comes complete with charts and graphs and its own lexicon, "documented" in several of the voluminous notebooks that line the law-office shelves. Chock-full of disparate fragments of legal arcana and pseudohistory, it contains just enough truth to make it plausible to the gullible and the dispossessed.
But unfortunately for men like Gehring and Ellena, there's not enough truth to get it through the door between fantasy and reality.
The IRS, for one, isn't buying it--any of it.
Bill Brunson, an IRS spokesman, says the Constitutionalist creed is known around the office as the "standard tax-protester line."
"We've heard all this stuff a million times," he says.
For instance, the claim that the 16th Amendment was never ratified stems from the fact that some states approved copies of the amendment that contained slightly different wording--such as misplaced articles; a "the" where there should have been an "a." But the states did, in fact, vote to approve the amendment.
The Constitutionalist insistence that income tax is voluntary, and that one can simply opt out of paying, comes from a reference in the tax code to "voluntary compliance"--which simply means that taxpayers file returns without the need for regular enforcement by the IRS. The tax laws are voluntary only in the sense that traffic laws are. No one rides in the passenger seat of your car forcing you to stop at red lights--but if you're caught running one, you still get a ticket.
The revenue folks are also familiar with the favorite Constitutionalist scam aimed at getting around the government's unwillingness to recognize the alleged "option."
It's called the "offshore trust," and here's how it is supposed to work: By renouncing American citizenship and moving all assets into accounts based in foreign countries, a person can avoid paying taxes on his income and property.
The only problem is that, according to the IRS and tax experts, only the wealthy and the elite--who are willing to move out of the country for good and stay out--can do it. In addition, the shelters only work if you put assets in them that have been earned overseas. All income made in the U.S. is still subject to income tax.