Right-wing media have spent more than a year demanding IRS cuts that House Republicans are looking to accelerate

The defining feature of right-wing politics: It should always be easier for the ultra-wealthy to hoard their wealth at the expense of the public good

Right-wing media outlets have spent more than a year telling conservative audiences that additional funding for the IRS secured by the Biden administration would be used to target them. Now, amid the threat of a government shutdown, House Republicans are pushing for a drastic acceleration to already agreed upon cuts to the agency’s budget.

The proposed deal, which is still in flux, would cut $20 billion from the IRS over the course of one year. Previously, President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had agreed that the reduction would be spread out over two years. The cuts would eat into some of the $80 billion earmarked for the agency as part of the Inflation Reduction Act — one of the signature achievements of President Biden’s first term — to modernize the agency and prioritize investigating tax avoidance by the ultra-rich.

The new IRS funding has already produced results. As of last October, the agency had already clawed back $160 million in back taxes from a small number of wealthy individuals and families. It also answered millions more phone calls.

Although conservatives have demonized the IRS since at least the 1950s, right-wing figures escalated their attacks on the agency as the Biden administration attempted to revive it with much-needed funding. In the days and weeks leading up to President Biden signing his signature bill on August 16, 2022, right-wing pundits began manufacturing conspiracy theories about how the new law would empower the IRS to target and imprison conservatives.

Across right-wing media, pundits spread the conspiracy theory that the law would add 87,000 new armed IRS agents who would hunt down conservatives and expropriate their private property and finances at the barrel of a gun. In reality, the increased funding may only allow the IRS to increase IRS staff numbers over the next decade to approximately what they were in the early 1990s, with very few of the new hires acting as investigative agents.

The IRS was “a military agency,” Carlson said days before the successful Senate vote.

The next night, Will Cain, sitting in for Carlson, heightened the rhetoric.

“Keep in mind, the IRS is already wonderfully, mysteriously, heavily militarized,” Cain said. “They've stockpiled thousands of firearms and millions of rounds of ammunition. Why does the IRS need all that weaponry?”

Then, tapping into a faux-populist register, Cain assured his viewers that “it won't be Goldman Sachs doors being kicked in with IRS agents with those guns.”

Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk lobbed a similar accusation days later. “The 87,000 new IRS agents will be used to go after mom-and-pop restaurants, donors to MAGA candidates, people like you,” he said.

By mid-August 2022, Carlson and others had set a narrative for their audiences: 87,000 new armed IRS agents were on the precipice of kicking down the door of any random conservative at the behest of the Biden administration. Fox News had pushed the false line more than 200 times over the course of the month, including host Laura Ingraham telling her viewers that the IRS was a “new Gestapo” and host Brian Kilmeade claiming that it will “hunt down and kill middle-class taxpayers."

As was clear at the time, the goal of this misinformation was to further incapacitate the IRS and allow wealthy GOP donors to hoard their private fortunes away from public scrutiny and control.

The right-wing attacks continued through the end of 2022 and into the following year. A budget released by The Center for Renewing America, an organization run by Christian nationalist Russ Vought, called for eliminating “funding for the recent hiring of 87,000 new IRS agents,” who the document claims are “targeting hardworking Americans and struggling families in a craven effort to sustain the broader bureaucracy’s radical progressive agenda."

Last January, several right-wing outlets rehashed the myth of an “IRS army.” The following month, Fox News gave Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) a platform to decry a “woke and weaponized IRS” that uses revenue to “pay for the Green New Deal.” In March, Fox News host Sean Hannity suggested to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that “defunding the hiring of the 87,000 IRS agents” should be a top legislative priority.

After Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) assumed the role of House Speaker following the ouster of McCarthy in late October, right-wing media cheered the newly installed leader’s attempts to divert money allocated to the IRS to fund Israel’s military offensive against Gaza, which by that point had already killed more than 8,500 Palestinians.

On November 20 Ingraham again accused the IRS of “targeting conservative groups” in an interview with right-wing media darling Sen. JD Vance (R-OH).

“What the IRS is trying to do is basically send a signal that if you are doing effective work on behalf of the conservative movement, you have got to have your head on a swivel,” Vance responded. “You gotta be looking around your shoulder to make sure that the IRS isn't going to come after you.”

The right-wing media attacks on the IRS seem to have persuaded viewers that the agency is targeting ordinary people rather than focusing on wealthy tax cheats. It’s no coincidence that this deliberate mystification serves the interests of conservative donors, not the working class.