In the fallout from the recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service systematically persecuting conservative political groups and other enemies of President Obama, the establishment is putting on a good show of being shocked by the behavior. The reality is that the IRS is and always has been a tool of oppression and is routinely used by those in power to destroy their opponents.
Once the income tax expanded to include nearly every wage-earner and company in the country, it was immediately seized upon as a potent weapon by the worst tyrants in American history. Franklin Roosevelt loved the IRS and used it well to silence his opponents. When he wasn’t illegally wiretapping members of Congress or other enemies, he was dispatching revenue agents to trump up charges against anyone who dared to oppose him. Roosevelt’s own son, Elliot, said of his father, “[He] may have been the originator of the concept of employing the IRS as a weapon of political retribution.” Roosevelt sent his minions to destroy Senator Huey Long, radio commentator Boake Carter, Congressman Hamilton Fish, Former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, newspaper publishers William Randolph Hearst and Moses Annenberg, and dozens of others. FDR also intervened to derail IRS investigations into corrupt Jersey City Democrat Frank Hague and then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson.
Mississippi newspaper publisher Hodding Carter was audited repeatedly during the 1950s when he made the unpopular decision to support the Supreme Court’s desegregation rulings. Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King and several lawyers at his Southern Christian Leadership Conference were audited in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
John Kennedy and his little brother Bobby found the IRS valuable for intimidation, launching a massive tax probe of steel company executives who refused to set their prices at levels acceptable to Jack and Bobby. As Robert Kennedy himself later said, “[w]e looked over all of them as individuals … we were going for broke … their expense accounts and where they’d been and what they were doing[.] … I picked up all their records[.] … All of them were subpoenaed for their personal records.”