The Law That Never Was: The Fraud of the 16th Amendment and Personal Income Tax is a 1985 book by William J. Benson and Martin J. “Red” Beckman, in which the authors claim that the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, known as “the income tax amendment”, was never properly ratified. Given the mindset of certain groups of people the idea has, subsequent to the book's publication, had the opportunity to be tested in court on several occasions, and been ruled to be fraudulent at least in 2007 and again in 2009. We’re talking serious pseudolaw here (though Beckman and Benson, it should be pointed out, weren’t the first to try the argument).
The primary strategy in the book is to find various ideosyncracies in the process of ratifying the Amendment in various states, including variations in wording, punctuation, capitalization, and pluralization in the language of the Amendment as ratified by many states. Those changes means, in the author’s views, that those states had not properly ratified the Amendment. The courts have not been impressed, and if you know something about tax law you may already see some problems with using the idea as a basis for a legal strategy. Benson has himself a history of legal problems related to income tax, and has tried to use his own defense in court. There is a portrait of Benson here.
Though crazy, Benson doesn’t seem to hold a candle to his coauthor, Red Beckman, a Montana activist and militia sympathizer who has somehow managed to gain himself a certain influence in the anti-government movement. Beckman is famous for claiming that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for Jews because they worship the devil in his book The Church Deceived: “It was judgment, not holocaust ... The true and almighty God used the evil Nazi government to perform judgment upon the evil Anti-Christ religion of those who had crucified the Christ.” Yes, Beckman is a promoter of the Christian Identity idea that Jewish people are the literal children of Satan, and people of color are sub-human “mud people.” He has presented his findings at various white supremecy gatherings.
As for tax issues, Beckman claims to have more respect for a terrorist “who might plant a bomb somewhere” than for the IRS, which is a “psycho-terrorist” that likes to mess with people’s heads”. In fairness, he did lose everything through a tax case in 1994 in which he used not primarily the arguments he had concocted with Benson, but the even sillier strategy of claiming that the judicial system did not have jurisdiction over him. The judicial system disagreed.
Before the conviction he told the press that “This isn’t going to go the way they [law enforcement] plan. There’s going to be enough guns here to make sure of that.” Yeah, that kind of guy. Beckman is (but of course) also a fan of various conspiracy theories, and thinks for instance that the Oklahoma City bombing was carried out by the CIA.
Diagnosis: I’ll grant that Beckman and Benson seem to promote a brand of lunacy that is, at least to some extent, “typically American”. It’s still a bit disconcerting that there are actually plenty, plenty of people out there who keep ruining themselves on their ideas.