More funding for the IRS fuels “Shadow Army” conspiracy theories

WASHINGTON — It has been referred to as President Joe Biden’s “shadow army,” portrayed as an assault-rifle-wielding attack group, and likened to a militia of auditors on search-and-destroy operations.

With the passing of a package sponsored by Democrats that grants the Internal Revenue Service $80 billion to strengthen its capacity to pursue tax cheats, Republican hostility for the IRS has reached new heights. The legislation, which Biden signed into law this week, will enable the troubled organization to hire over 80,000 new staff members, update obsolete technological systems, and enhance its capacity to serve taxpayers.

The personnel of the agency is the same size as it was in 1970, a year in which it handled significantly fewer individual tax returns. Since 2010, the number of enforcement personnel has decreased by more than 30%, while audits of millionaires have decreased by more than 70%. Millions of individuals were still waiting for the IRS to process their 2021 tax returns as of late June.

However, Republicans have seized on the bill to promote unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the threat that mom-and-pop stores and middle-class Americans will face from an emboldened tax collector. Republicans have long accused the IRS of unfairly targeting conservatives.

The size and speed at which rumors about the organization have proliferated foretell the political and practical difficulties that the Biden administration will experience as it begins the IRS’s most significant reform since the agency’s founding. Republicans have embraced the idea that a more powerful IRS is ready to be used against them, frequently twisting the truth to support their positions in everything from newsletters and television news to Twitter and TikTok.

Stephen Moore, a conservative economist associated with FreedomWorks, a right-leaning group that supports small government, said that this topic has “become the lightning-rod issue that’s really agitated and galvanized conservative activists around the country.” “I find it to be a complete outrage,”

Moore has been organizing a group of conservative activists in an effort to “kill the bill” for almost a year. Moore’s personal dispute with the IRS came to light in 2019. Republicans have increased their efforts to malign the IRS now that it has been enacted, misrepresenting how big it will become and what additional employees would be doing.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proclaimed last week on Twitter, “Stop Biden’s shadow army of 87,000 IRS agents,” with a foreboding ad evoking the organization’s targeting of Tea Party groups mixed to the sound of soldiers marching.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, warned Fox News viewers this week that the new IRS officers, some of whom are permitted to carry firearms, would show up with loaded “AK-15s” and be “ready to shoot some small-business owner in Iowa.”

According to Grassley, “I believe they are targeting middle-class and small-business owners.” “You can picture what that harassment will be to middle-class Americans and our small-business owners with 87,000 additional employees.”

To keep up with the surge in taxpayers and to fill vacant positions, the IRS is expanding its staff. Approximately 50,000 IRS employees are anticipated to retire within the next ten years, and the agency will also hire 87,000 new workers, bringing its total headcount to nearly 120,000. Over the following ten years, the number of enforcement agents is anticipated to increase by almost half, from 6,500 to roughly 13.

And despite reports made on social media that the IRS’s new workers will be heavily armed, a Treasury official claimed that just 1% of the new hires would be agents doing work that necessitates carrying weapons.

Nevertheless, in response to criticism, the IRS recently changed a job advertising for criminal investigators, eliminating that one of the key responsibilities was to “be willing to employ deadly force, if necessary.” Be lawfully permitted to carry a firearm is now a prerequisite, according to the updated advertisement.

According to Khaalid Walls, an IRS official, “the language adjustment on one webpage followed continuous misstatements and errors about IRS workers carrying weapons.”

In anticipation of the November elections, which will determine which political party controls Congress, Republicans have been keen to stir concerns about an expanded IRS.