Short Documentary Lays Out Controversial Tax Case, Shows How Citizen Documentary Can Create Change
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.
Doreen’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 individuals who benefit in some way from a federal privilege. By contrast, he writes that private citizens who do not make enjoy special privileges or income from the federal government 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 charges 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.
The 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.