boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Tax resisters finding allies in cyberspace

N.H. couple vow to continue fight

PLAINFIELD, N.H. -- He has been holed up for five months in his turreted mountain compound with federal prison time hanging over his head. And convicted tax cheat Ed Brown, a handgun tucked in his pants and a hunting knife on his belt, vows that he is not coming out alive.

"They think they can intimidate us," Brown said of federal agents. "They can't. Not everyone in the world is a coward. We're men."

The defiant stand by this New Hampshire exterminator and his wife, Elaine, a dentist, over their refusal to pay $625,000 in taxes because they refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the US government echoes previous sieges in Waco and Ruby Ridge.

But this standoff carries a new dimension: Brown's antigovernment crusade has rocketed through cyberspace, transforming the once-anonymous couple into a cause célèbre among fringe groups around the world and leaving federal agents wary of turning them into martyrs.

Brown's blog has received more than a million hits in a month. Randy Weaver, who infamously resisted arrest at Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992, has joined Brown at his compound to offer his support after word spread online. Supporters from across the country arrive bearing supplies and camaraderie.

During a rare and recent interview in his fortified home, a cross between a Victorian house and a castle, Brown ranted about the government and accused President Bush of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks.

As he spoke, one admirer pecked away on a laptop. Another took digital video for uploading to the web. Yet another ally plotted updates to Brown's MySpace page.

"It's too late" to stop him, said Brown, 64. "Too many people are aware."

Federal agents are treading gingerly around Brown, recalling that Timothy McVeigh was provoked by the bloodshed at Ruby Ridge and Waco to commit the Oklahoma City bombing.

Brown and his wife were convicted of 20 tax evasion-related felonies in January and sentenced to five years in prison and a $215,890 fine.

"It is our intention to serve the warrants," said Stephen R. Monier, US marshal for the New Hampshire district, who is leading the effort against the couple. "It is not our intention, however, to engage in a violent confrontation with the Browns. We have no intention of harming the Browns."

Monier has sent them two letters urging a peaceful surrender. The couples' other property in Lebanon, N.H., was seized by federal agents in June. All utilities to their Plainfield compound have been shut off.

But Brown has power from a wind turbine generator and solar panels, communications through satellite dishes, and a steady stream of food, water, and supplies brought in by followers and friends who have read about his case online.

"They are trying to shut me and my wife up," Brown said. "They know they're in deep trouble."

The Browns live on a lush 103-acre property near the Vermont border with mountain views and a sizable pond out back. Signs posted at the head of his lengthy driveway warn people away, but a steady stream of visitors has come and gone over the past five months, with occasionally more than 20 people lodging in the sprawling compound.

Federal authorities do not maintain any presence there. Brown moved from Westborough, Mass., in 1990. US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has a vacation home a half-mile away.

Beginning in 1996, the Browns stopped paying taxes, mostly on income generated by Elaine Brown's dentistry practice.

Prosecutors said the Browns used falsified tax returns and other financial schemes to try to hide their income.

A jury rejected Brown's antigovernment theories at trial, and the couple was convicted. In the middle of the trial, Brown left court and ensconced himself on his property, where he has been since. His wife soon joined him.

"We know there's a possibility that this will end badly and they will end up killing us," Elaine Brown said in May in an interview on Terri Dudley's talk-radio show on WTSL-AM in Hanover. "Maybe some of us will die, but that happens in every revolution."

Dudley, a Lebanon city councilor and former mayor, has known the Browns for 15 years. Elaine Brown was her dentist.

"Elaine is a very friendly person," Dudley said. "Her husband is friendly but a little more aggressive."

Dudley said she cannot reconcile that image with the couples' rhetoric. "They're very passionate in their belief that citizens are not supposed to pay income tax. . . . I believe they will either walk out free or in body bags."

Indeed, Ed Brown's beliefs are well outside the mainstream.

He admires Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a bitter foe of the United States. Brown believes that the US government is an arm of the Freemasons, a centuries- old fraternal order that has long been a staple of conspiracy theories.

He said Bush ordered the killing of thousands on Sept. 11 to justify a takeover of the Islamic world on behalf of Freemasons. He said his allies around the world are compiling a list of Freemasons for future reference.

"For years now, we've been identifying them . . . in each town, each city, each state, each nation," he said. "We know who they are."

The supporters who come in a steady stream to the Browns' compound come lugging laptops, cellphones, and video cameras, united by deep skepticism about governmental institutions.

"There are a lot of people interested in what he has to say," said Cirino Gonzalez of Alice, Texas, who has moved in with the Browns to manage their MySpace page.

Danny Romero, 59, cofounder of We The People Radio Network of Austin, Texas, sat typing on a Dell laptop in the Brown's dining room, preparing a pro-Brown video for his website.

"When you get good people, serious people together . . . change happens," he said. "The forces are all coming together."

Next to him sat Weaver, one of the iconic figures in the antigovernment movement. Weaver's son and wife were killed in the Ruby Ridge stand-off, as was Deputy US Marshal William F. Degan, a . Quincy, Mass., native.

Weaver, who now lives in Arkansas, said he is once again willing to face off with federal agents. "I respect courage," he said of Brown. "I'll be dead before I follow the government like a blind sheep."

Monier said the Browns will eventually be charged with obstruction of justice for resisting arrest.

He acknowledged that the Internet has given Brown a considerable platform to spread his views and mock federal agents. But Monier said he will continue the waiting game.

"It requires a strategy that takes a slow, methodical, and careful approach to resolving the situation," he said.

Robert Trestan -- a lawyer with the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors fringe groups -- said material from Brown's websites is reposted on other radical websites that are linked to even more websites, multiplying the effect of Brown's message.

"There are a lot of extremist media that are covering him around the world," Trestan said. "He's able to tell someone a thousand miles away what's happening right now in his house."

With all the people watching, federal agents are even more reluctant to act aggressively against Brown, while Brown is less likely to back down so as not to disappoint his followers, specialists on fringe groups said.

Brown said the standoff will only end peacefully if the government leaves him and his wife alone, so they can move south.

"We're tired of the cold," he said. "My wife and I were ready to retire and go live our life happily ever after."

But he made clear he now has a more ambitious goal: "The end of tyranny forever."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES