Film / Harry's War

"I declare war on the IRS!"
Harry Johnson

Harry's War is a 1981 film directed by Keith Merrill.

Harry Johnson (Edward Herrmann) has a sweet but eccentric Aunt Beverly (Geraldine Page), who runs a household filled with surplus military equipment and questionably-sane survivalists. She's also in a tangle with the Internal Revenue Service — she doesn't think she owes them a cent, but IRS is convinced (because of its own bookkeeping errors) that she owes a whillion zillion dollars in income tax. Harry helps her take her case to Tax Court, but the judge rules against her, and she dies from a heart attack due to all the stress.

Something snaps within Harry at this point. He's seen enough. He's convinced the bureaucratic, bullyish IRS killed her just as surely as if they'd put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Borrowing a tank (!) from the late Aunt Beverly's military supplies, he crashes into the set of a talk show where an IRS director (David Ogden Stiers) is telling America that they'll all go to jail if they don't pay their taxes.

From there, his war with the IRS escalates until he's forced to hide out in Aunt Beverly's bomb shelter ... because of bombs.

Despite a lackluster performance at the box office, this film became a cult favorite of several folk within the "sovereign citizen" tax protestor movement, who believe that they're not legally obliged to pay income tax.

This film contains examples of:

  • Hollywood Law: More than one example.
    • During his speech after breaking into the talk show in a tank, Harry says that the Constitution doesn't authorize the IRS. Oh really, Harry? How about Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States"
    • And if that wasn't blatant enough, how about Amendment 16: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."
    • While it's true the Constitution doesn't specificially authorize an Internal Revenue Service to collect taxes, it's pretty blatant about the (nearly unlimited) taxing power it gives the Federal government, and every court in the land agrees that an agency to enforce the Federal tax laws is well within the rights of the Executive branch.
    • Aunt Beverly claims that the Tax Court judges are all in the hip pockets of the IRS, since it's the IRS that pays their salaries (and can hit them with severe audits if they don't toe the line the IRS wants). In Real Life, many neutral parties have criticized the Tax Courts for being too soft on tax cheats out of judicial dislike for the IRS. Also their salaries are set by the Congress and paid by the taxpayer like all federal officials, which doesn't differ in amount from other judges. Punitive audits from the IRS of judges would also get them in a lot of trouble.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: The IRS is portrayed as an extortionist bully that constantly makes accounting mistakes in its own favor.
  • Rousing Speech: Made to the viewing audience of the talk show he crashes in on.
  • Tank Goodness: Harry's relatives have one of these among their many items of military surplus. He uses it.