By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Burnett County, Wisconsin follows the crooked bends in the St. Croix river along its western border for 40 miles, and spreads out to the east in an alluvial fan of wildlife preserves, an ailing resort area around the northern cluster of lakes, a sprinkle of small towns, and family farms pocked with run-down outbuildings and machinery left long ago to rust in the back acres. Nailed to mailboxes and trees at the end of nearly every rural driveway are handpainted signs advertising quilts, Amway products, woodcrafts, feeder pigs for cheap--any combination of salable merchandise to supplement family incomes that have, since 1980, fallen drastically. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, nearly 20 percent of the county's farm families now live at or below the poverty level. In this county of 13,000 residents, well over 1,000 properties have been listed on the delinquent tax register since 1990, including Paul Ekblad's farm, the Rainbow Cafe, and several other properties owned--and forfeited--by original Wild River members.
It's been a rough winter, judging from the abundance of roadkill deer along the pothole-ridden roads that lace together the county's scatter of incorporated settlements--towns with unlikely names like Siren, home to the new government center, and Luck, just past the county line, with its handful of roadhouse taverns and one of the few antique shops still in business after the boom promised by the tourism office in the mid-1970s quickly came and went. That elusive boom was to have been a kind of salvation here: Burnett County is among the most depressed in the state, with an agricultural economy dominated more and more by large-scale corporate operations and an unemployment rate hovering at just under 10 percent. Summer tourism, a handful of parts and plastics manufacturers, and the small reservation casino in Danbury account for most of the jobs in the area; many residents have taken to driving the nearly two-hour commute across the river and south to the Twin Cities for work.
A couple decades ago, when county officials geared up to remake Burnett in the image of Door County or the Dells--a second-home-in-the-woods destination for folks from Madison and Chicago and Minneapolis--their master plan was not unlike those drawn up in economy-boosting blueprints around other upper-Midwest counties. Voyager Village, the resort on which so many hopes were pinned, is in large part empty now. In the wake of the boom that never was, a hardscrabble mix of struggling dairy farms and rural trailers house the third- and fourth-generation heirs of acreages their families homesteaded a hundred years ago. Under the added burden of volatile farm markets and deep cuts in social support programs, Burnett County has accrued one of the highest rates of property seizure for delinquent taxes in the state.
"We'll get to the issue of allodial landholdings and Paul Ekblad's case, OK. But let's deal first with the big territory." Mike McGrath has come from the back room with a stack of files and notes, and settled into his chair for my instruction session. The dialogue, as it unfolds, borders on the Socratic, with McGrath playing both roles--interrogator and respondent--as he chisels away at evasions to expose the "Comprehensive Bureaucratic Program." Start with taxes.
"What are taxes?" McGrath asks. "Who owes taxes? Where did the tax structure start? Who really is the IRS?" Answer: "Taxes were, and still are, a voluntary system first required during the time of war. Congress declared it, but only for the very rich. What they won't tell you at the IRS is this: Taxes are voluntary. That is our true heritage as free Americans."
"Why has this program of taxes been implemented on the populace?" Answer: "In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared emergency powers--it was called the Trading with the Enemy Act--and since that time the U.S. government has declared its citizens to be the enemy. Burnett County, right here, gave up its sovereignty with the Geneva Convention, and as a result is now beholden to the international bankers, OK. They're the ones, if you follow the money trail, running everything. What ends up, through a whole tangle of scam and bureaucracy, is that if you don't volunteer to pay taxes, they can come in and seize your property and put you in shackles. I guarantee if you do research, you'll find out that there's not one statute requiring you to pay property taxes on land you own free and clear, and not one mention in the Constitution."
"What happens to all the tax money?" Answer: "It is being deposited into a covert fund called Trust Number 63, held in the District of Columbia and in offshore accounts in Puerto Rico, which are the only places the fed has any true jurisdiction. The IRS and the BATF are one and the same. It charges a false debt on citizens, then moves in the SWAT troops to blast all the nonvolunteers. We saw it on Ruby Ridge. We saw it at Waco. We saw it in Oklahoma City, where, if you're paying attention, you'll notice that the BATF offices were empty that day. All employees had the day off, for no apparent reason. That whole program's been shut up and silenced. And we are seeing it in Montana and will in other places closer to home soon, very soon."