America: Freedom to Fascism
2006, NR, 105 min. Directed by Aaron Russo.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 28, 2006
Filmmaker Aaron Russo and a swelling movement of angry Americans make the case in this documentary that there is no law on the books that requires Americans to pay income taxes. Although Russo’s film is grounded in Libertarian theory, the producer-turned-filmmaker presents some very provocative information in the film’s first half, which argues that there is no legal basis for the payment of income taxes. He looks at the origins of the 16th Amendment and concludes, as many other tax resistors have over the years, that the amendment was never legally ratified by the states before its implementation in 1913. Russo speaks with former Internal Revenue Service workers who’ve grown disenchanted with the agency’s inability to cough up a specific statute to support their endeavors and also speaks with various experts, authors, and average citizens. Russo spars with former IRS Commissioner Sheldon S. Cohen, who tries to explain what is meant by “voluntary compliance” and the meaning of various Supreme Court rulings that he finds inapplicable to the IRS. Yet the majority of Russo’s speakers are supporters of his cause – a cause that this former music promoter; former Bette Midler manager, producer of the films The Rose and Trading Places and failed candidate in the Nevada governor’s race is championing with this self-produced film. His efforts have been rewarded with a genuine grassroots campaign of viewer support, and in one of the odder examples of politics making strange bedfellows America: From Freedom to Fascism is being distributed by Cinema Libre – the independent company that has also released such left-identified fare as Uncovered: The War on Iraq, WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, The Future of Food, and Tim Robbins’ Embedded Live. In between his experts’ testimonies, Russo also highlights several cases of resistors’ legal battles with the IRS that cast the agency as a bully that relies on intimidation and fear to get what it wants. However, just as the film’s arguments start growing persuasive, Russo (who also narrates the movie) undermines his work by freefalling into a tangled web of all-out conspiracy-mongering. The Federal Reserve is taken to task for being the work of a rich cabal of banking interests. The decline of the gold standard and the secrecy and lack of auditing of Fort Knox are also seen as conspiratorial. Next, the film segues into the evils of the USA PATRIOT Act, electronic voting machines, national ID cards, and the new world order. It concludes with an impassioned plea for civil disobedience, but not before allowing Texas congressman Ron Paul to have the last word. (The Libertarian-turned-Republican Paul, a central Texas representative and physician, is known in the House as Dr. No for his consistent voting against anything not required by the Constitution.) Though the technical credits and music used in America: From Freedom to Fascism are a bit substandard for a theatrical release, it’s good to see that passionate cinematic rabble-rousing does not rest solely in the hands of the left.