“Free Speech on Trial” – Short Documentary

On July 25, 2014, Doreen Hendrickson was convicted of contempt of court. She was recently sentenced to 18 months, and surrendered herself to prison on May 15, 2015. The details of the case were bizarre, to say the least.

irs-tax-returnDoreen’s husband, Pete Hendrickson, is the author of Cracking the Code: The Fascinating Truth about Taxation in America, a book that encourages an allegedly legal but unconventional way of filing tax returns, which has supposedly helped tens of thousands of readers win their money back from the IRS. While the book and documentary goes into much heavier detail, the compact of his premise is that the income tax was only meant to be applied to government employees, and private citizens can avoid income taxation by referencing this distinction.

Doreen and Pete have been using this method to avoid paying income tax since the release of Pete’s book, and it’s put them at odds with the IRS. In the recent case, Doreen was given a new set of returns filled out by the federal government and ordered to sign them as being her own testimony. Because they were not her own words, she refused, and has now been sentenced to prison.

Whether or not this method of avoiding taxation is valid, the case highlights a fundamental issue of free speech in today’s America. While the First Amendment supposedly validates one’s right to say, or not say, what they want, this case draws that principle into question. Doreen was not charged with tax evasion or falsifying returns; she was only charged with contempt of court for refusing to sign a document swearing something she doesn’t believe to be true.

we-the-peopleThe Power of Citizen Media

This story has gained minimal media response, and very few people are aware of it. Whether or not someone agrees with the Hendricksons, this is a story worth observing and debating. Shane Trejo, writing for Pontiac Tribune, has covered this story extensively. Knowing that it still wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, he decided to shoot a documentary.

Documentary is a powerful art. While the written word has pushed journalism for decades, documentaries have a unique ability to visualize a story and its raw emotions. With increasingly competitive technology markets, devices with cameras have become so cheap that nearly everyone in a first world country has a phone and a computer capable of making a documentary film.

When one sees breaking news occur right before their eyes, they can film it and share it on social media, submit it directly to a website like News2Share, or even self-publish the content on one’s own website. Virtually everyone has the power to do so. Trejo interviewed all of the available and relevant figures in the Hendrickson case, then found me via Solutions Institute as someone who could professionally edit together his footage. Even in the absence of any high-end camera equipment, I was able to use Trejo’s interviews and my editing to compose a documentary that can, at the very least, provoke sympathy for the Hendricksons and inspire further investigation.

In doing so, the documentary not only brought light to this case, but the ability of documentaries themselves as a powerful tool to create political and social change.


  1. It is simply is not true that the Federal Income tax was meant to be applied only to government employees – indeed in 1913 (when the income tax was introduced) I doubt that any Federal government employee was paid enough to qualify to pay income tax.

    As the post contains such a wildly false claim (that the American income tax was intended to only apply to government employees) everything else must be taken with a pinch of salt.

    However, courts do not tend to be kind to people who make obviously false claims (either in court or on legal documents) – such people tend to be sent to prison (rather than laughed at). It might be nice if the legal system had more of sense of humour – but it does not.

    For the record I regard I regard the introduction of the Federal Income Tax as a terrible thing (and I would like to see it abolished) – but documentaries based on nonsense are not going to achieve good political and social change (they are just going to get us laughed at).



  2. Of course the Income Tax Amendment only passed at all because people in the South and West thought that only the North East (basically New York and nearby States) would have many people with a high enough income to pay the new income tax.

    The Mormons of Utah were about more longsighted – they figured out that eventually most people would be paying the Federal Income Tax and so Utah did not ratify the Amendment (as they had no great desire for future generations to send their money to Washington D.C.).

    Sadly this does not matter – as an Amendment only needs to be ratified by three quarters of the States.



    1. Hi Paul! I’m the person who edited the documentary and wrote this article. For the record, I don’t personally endorse their interpretation of tax laws. People have successfully gotten money back using this technique, but it’s highly contested and its success is probably more based on it being ignored by the IRS, rather than affirmed. I think what this documentary *does* show, which I do agree with, is that they and many people sincerely believe what they’re saying. The government may be, at least by its own legal standards, in the right to say “sorry, bullshit, here’s a fine for evading taxation.” The real issue here, as indicated in the title, is that rather than saying that she evaded taxes, she’s in prison for not signing a document as her own words that she doesn’t believe in. I probably wouldn’t be nearly as interested in the case if she had been found guilty for tax fraud, but to be put in prison for not swearing under oath to something that you don’t believe is true is a real miscarriage of justice.



      1. Ah! Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Fischer.

        Not a “miscarriage” of justice so much as a mockery of it.


  3. If the central assertion is true, that it is contempt not to swear a document prepared by others (as it presumably is for jurors not to take a juror’s oath) then that is an appalling indictment of the fall of the rule of law in the United States. In English law, there are mechanisms to bypass consent of a ‘hold-out’, one I recall was for the sale of a jointly-owned house to be ordered by a court, typically in a divorce, with a judge’s order that the sale go ahead being deemed sufficient consent for the sale, so the ‘owner’ is bypassed. Putting aside the rights of that principle. The mechanism could at least be adopted here, with a judge consenting to the assessment and tax levy unless the poor taxpayer sheweth why he should not do so, and normal debt enforcement to follow, preety much as HMRC in the UK can estimate your tax then put the burden on you to show why the estimate is wrong, and proceed accordingly. At least this method gives one fewer weapon to beat the taxpayer with.

    As for Paul’s point about the flawed nature of the ‘legal’ argument that only some pay income tax, there is case law, and there is folk law, and never the twain shall meet.



  4. Paul, you wrote: “As the post contains such a wildly false claim (that the American income tax was intended to only apply to government employees) everything else must be taken with a pinch of salt.”

    I agree, and I was intrigued enough to dig. Here is an excerpt from the link in the article:

    “What You Will Learn in ‘Cracking the Code’:

    That the vast majority of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) is not the law itself, but is only evidence– a representation– of the actual statutes in force, and like in the game of post-office, the real language has been a bit garbled in transmission.
    That “income”, “wages”, “self-employment income”, “employee”, “employer” and “trade or business”– as these and certain other terms are used within, and in regard to, the tax law– have narrow legal meanings exclusively involving, and applying to, certain privileged activities, such as holding or administering a government office, or working in one.
    That although the tax statutes make perfectly clear that, for instance, language describing the obligations of “employees”– and the taxes to which “employees are subject– only apply to a small minority of American workers, the distinction is artfully concealed in the IRC representation of the law, and is never forthrightly acknowledged in any IRS publication (although it is obliquely acknowledged whenever necessary for the avoidance of legal jeopardy).
    That an elaborate system has been created which causes some people to whom the tax laws do not otherwise apply (maybe including you) to inadvertently declare themselves to be among the persons to whom those laws do apply.
    “The revenue laws are a code or system in regulation of tax assessment and collection. They relate to taxpayers, and not to nontaxpayers. The latter are without their scope.” United States Court of Claims, Economy Plumbing and Heating v. United States, 470 F.2d 585, at 589 (1972)”

    Which One Are You?

    The federal and thirty-three state governments have now repeatedly acknowledged that what is revealed about the law in ‘Cracking the Code’ is true!”

    This has all the hallmarks of a fraud, with assertions that the IRC conceals what the law states, yet at the same time stating that the code has no force in law.

    There remains the possibility that the author genuinely believes that he has found a legal loophole, and armed with a faulty knowledge of the law, he may have progressed along a line of reasoning like this:

    1. The law has been garbled by the IRS interpretations of it in the IRC Code. (which I would not be surprised by)
    2. The IRC tell me that I have to pay tax. (That’s what they do)
    3. As the IRC has garbled tax law in the code, tax law is itself garbled. (a wholly impermissible deduction)
    4. I understand this garbled law, and I will explain it to you and how it might not apply. We will persuade the courts that our interpretation is correct. (Despite 100+ years of income tax law and precedent, no one has yet got near where I have got to in understanding the law, and none of the tax case law precedents to date are relevant to my situation).

    There is, of course, no cure for stupidity. There may be treatment for hubris. I regard this as, at best, an unfortunate situation where someone’s ambition has travelled ahead of his ability to reason.

    Whatever the real situation is, no one should face punishment except by the operation of law, and law in the sense of doing justice. I am disgusted by the thought of someone facing contempt charges on the basis of a refusal to sign a document that they do not believe in, or even if they do believe it but refuse to say so.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s