New Hampshire Couple in Showdown Over Taxes

New Hampshire couple Ed and Elaine Brown has holed up in their hilltop home since April in defiance of a federal court that sentenced them to a five-year prison term for income tax evasion. The Browns say the IRS lacks the authority to require such a levy and say they won't be taken alive.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

People in New Hampshire are known to dislike taxes and they are also known to tolerate eccentrics, but people there are getting weary of Ed and Elaine Brown. Since April, the couple from Plainfield, New Hampshire have defied a federal court order sentencing them to five years in prison for not paying their federal income taxes. They say they will not be taken alive.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers has more.

JOSH ROGERS: So what does a tax siege sound like? In the case of the Browns, a lot depends on the day. Most of the time their stand-off sounds like this.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

ROGERS: But things aren't always so tranquil.

Mr. RANDY WEAVER: I'd rather die on my feet right here with the people like this - good American people - than live on my knees anymore.

ROGERS: That's Randy Weaver, whose wife and child were killed by U.S. Marshals in a 1992 shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

Mr. WEAVER: Under this de facto government that lie to you, steal from you, murder you, make you commit suicide - this is serious stuff.

ROGERS: For weeks, Weaver and dozens of other anti-government activists have rallied to the Browns, invoking Ruby Ridge and Waco, lighting up the blogosphere and occasionally camping out on the Brown's 110 acres, land which sits just across a dirt road from the vacation home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Throughout, the couple at the center of the standoff have played to the media, with Elaine Brown, a prim-looking dentist, promising not to go peacefully.

Ms. ELAINE BROWN: We either walk out of here free or we die. That's it.

ROGERS: And Ed Brown, whose past includes an armed robbery conviction and militia activity, insisting that the income tax is a sham.

Mr. ED BROWN: There is no law. How many times and how many ways do we have to tell that to you? Do your research.

ROGERS: Such exploits aren't wearing well in low-key rural Plainfield.

(Soundbite of music)

ROGERS: Police chief Gordon Gillens says locals won't let the Brown situation change the tenor of events like the town's Fourth of July picnic. He adds, though, that nobody can deny the possibility that things could become violent.

Mr. GORDON GILLENS (Chief of Police, Plainfield, New Hampshire): It causes, you know, a lot of concern with the citizens, but we're not making a huge armed camp out of Plainfield.

ROGERS: What happens next depends largely on those responsible for taking the Browns into custody, the U.S. Marshal Service. New Hampshire U.S. Marshal Steven Monier has said for months that the government will wait the Browns out, but he's also stressed that authorities need to be ready come what may.

Mr. STEVEN MONIER (U.S. Marshal): The Browns have said they have weapons. So when you roll out with an operation, of course you want to be prepared for every contingency.

ROGERS: And on that point, at least, the Browns and the marshal seem to agree. The couple's home, a neo-Victorian built of concrete, boasts solar and wind generators and a turret with a 360-degree view. The feds long ago cut the Brown's phone and power lines. Last month, when they seized Elaine Brown's nearby dentist office, armored vehicles rumbled through town and choppers swirled overhead. Plainfield resident Steve Taylor says that show of force left many locals scared and angry.

Mr. STEVE TAYLOR (Resident, Plainfield, New Hampshire): A good measure of trust and respect has been lost for the way this thing has been managed and the way it's played out. And we're all hoping that it doesn't deteriorate further.

ROGERS: Plainfield has asked the marshals to bar visitors from the Brown's property and to take decisive action to end the standoff. The marshals declined to be interviewed on tape about the town's concerns but say they are investigating several Brown supporters. In the meantime, the couple's visitors continue to pay their respects, bearing supplies, cell phones, and even PA systems to amplify Brown-inspired protest songs.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...your income tax extortion plot won't work with me no more. So you may as well forget it, turn around, there's the door, show me the law.

Mr. ROGERS: For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.

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