Right-wing media’s conspiracy theory of a militarized IRS is really about protecting wealthy donors and sponsors from paying higher taxes
The Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t create an army of anti-MAGA IRS agents, regardless of what the right says
Right-wing media figures are arguing that a key part of new legislation meant to increase federal tax revenue from high-earners and corporations is secretly designed to militarize the IRS and unleash the agency on conservatives. In fact, the new bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, provides the agency with $80 billion in new funding to counteract decadeslong conservative efforts to reduce the IRS’ capacity to enforce tax compliance, and to modernize the agency’s technology.
Although the IRS in the past has spent a relatively small amount of their funding on ammunition, only agents from the IRS-Criminal Investigation division are allowed to carry weapons. There is no evidence to support the claims that the agency is targeting conservatives, and the suggestion is clearly a red herring designed to obfuscate the real purpose of the new legislation.
The right-wing media’s response leading up to the bill’s passage has been to resurrect a debunked conspiracy theory that the bill will turn the IRS into a militarized police force and will increase the agency’s audits of working- and middle-class families while ignoring billionaires.
On August 4, Fox News’ marquee star Tucker Carlson warned that the IRS was being used “as a military agency.”
“In 2018, the Government Accountability Office reported that more than 2,000 IRS enforcement agents have more than 4,000 weapons. Guns -- that kill people, remember?” Carlson added. “The IRS is also stockpiling more than 5 million rounds of ammunition.”
Carlson’s guest that night, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), argued that the Biden administration is “raising taxes and disarming Americans. So, of course, they are arming up the IRS like they’re preparing to take Fallujah.” Gaetz was on the show to talk about a bill he introduced called the Disarm the IRS Act in July; the bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), two of the most extreme members of the House Republican caucus.
The following night, Fox News’ Will Cain, sitting in for Carlson, returned to the topic. “The agency stands to gain $80 billion from this legislation,” Cain said. “Now, that will allow the agency to hire more than 80,000 new agents.”
“Keep in mind, the IRS is already wonderfully, mysteriously, heavily militarized,” he continued. “They've stockpiled thousands of firearms and millions of rounds of ammunition. Why does the IRS need all that weaponry?”
“It won't be Goldman Sachs doors being kicked in with IRS agents with those guns,” Cain added, suggesting that the real targets will be working- and middle-class families.
Conservative pundit John Fredericks, appearing on Steve Bannon’s War Room, told a live audience at CPAC that the Biden administration is “stocking the IRS with guns and ammo.” He then dismissed the idea that the agency would target wealthy corporations and individuals as inherently preposterous, before adding what he believed the real purpose of the bill was.
“They’re going to weaponize the IRS, use the government to intimidate every single Trump supporter and MAGA supporter in America,” Fredericks said.
Turning Point USA founder and conservative activist Charlie Kirk argued that the real purpose of the bill was to target “dissidents.”
“The 87,000 new IRS agents will be used to go after mom-and-pop restaurants, donors to MAGA candidates, people like you,” Kirk said.
Right-wing media have long warned of the threat of a rogue, highly armed IRS. In 2010, right-wing media fearmongered about the IRS purchasing 60 shotguns. A month later, then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) said on Fox News that “thugs” from the IRS were going to force people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act at gun-point. Fox News returned to a variation of this theory in 2013 as well.
It is true that the IRS often fails to adequately enforce tax laws against billionaires and disproportionately targets low- and middle-income households, though that’s largely due to the long-running war that conservatives have waged against the agency. Underfunding and understaffing have led the agency to pursue actions that are cheaper than the more complicated investigations of transnational corporations or incredibly wealthy individuals, according to the Washington Post.
The result is that the IRS’s prolific enforcement capabilities — which bring in on average better than $10 in revenue for every $1 spent pursuing audits — are often trained on the most economically vulnerable taxpayers.
More than half of the agency’s audits in 2021 were directed at taxpayers with incomes less than $75,000, according to IRS data. More than 4 in 10 of its audits targeted recipients of the earned income tax credit, one of the country’s main anti-poverty measures.
The entire goal of the new funding is to reverse that trend.
Additionally, agents in the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division are allowed to carry weapons and make arrests, as they are tasked with investigating organized crime and money laundering. That division also regularly works alongside other federal, state, and local law enforcement — all armed — in criminal investigations.
To the extent that armed agents of the state pose a direct threat to people, that risk in reality comes from regular police officers, who have killed 719 people in 2022, disproportionately Black people.
Conservative media figures cheer on that form of state action, while creating fever-dreams of an out-of-control IRS kicking in their audience’s doors. The real story is that these figures and Republican politicians don’t want to pay higher taxes and neither do those who sponsor and fund them.