A veteran of the peace movement and founder of the Traprock Peace Center (1979), Randy Kehler was active in the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, the Peace Development Fund, and the Working Group on Electoral Democracy. Beginning in 1977, he and his wife became war tax resisters, withholding federal income tax to protest U.S. military expenditures, donating it instead to charity. As a consequence, their home was seized by the IRS in 1989, setting up a protracted legal struggle that resulted in Kehler's arrest and imprisonment and the sale of the house. They remain tax resisters.
The Kehler Papers document the five year struggle (1989-1994) against the seizure and sale of the Kehlers' home by the IRS. The collection includes meeting minutes, notes, correspondence, newspaper clippings; letters to the editor, essays, articles, plans and strategy documents for the vigil set outside the Kehler home; support committee information and actions; correspondence with government officials, the IRS, and the Justice Department; letters of support; documents from the legal proceedings; and political literature addressing the Kehlers' situation.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Randy Kehler
A pacifist, war-tax resister, and advocate for social justice, Randy Kehler was born in Bronxville, New York, on July 16, 1944 and raised in Scarsdale. From Philips Exeter Academy, Kehler went on to Harvard University, graduating cum laude in 1967 with a degree in government. It was at Harvard that Kehler first became politically active, working with the Harlem chapter of CORE to organize support for the 1963 March on Washington and directing programs for inner city children at a Boston settlement house. He credits Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" during the March on Washington with changing his life, moving him toward an increasingly radical stance.
In 1964, Kehler went to Africa to teach in Tanzania. There he met Congolese refugees who had been forced out of their villages when unmarked U.S. planes had dropped napalm bombs. At one point he was mobbed because his backpack said "U.S. Army." This experience had a profound effect on Kehler. Upon returning to Harvard, he heard that the United States was dropping napalm bombs on the Vietnamese and he began organizing against the Vietnam War. In 1965, Kehler started "Letters for Peace," a letter writing campaign to Washington. A short time later, Kehler signed a petition entitled, "We Won't Go" and acknowledged to himself that he was willing to be imprisoned for anti-war beliefs. Although he moved on to Stanford in 1967 to pursue graduate work in education, he left after only three weeks to work full time in the movement against the Vietnam War.
Taking a job with the War Resisters League in San Francisco in 1967, Kehler joined a small number of protestors by refusing to pay his telephone taxes as a protest against military expenditures, and he returned his draft card to the Selective Service. As a result of his non-compliance with the draft, he was arrested in 1969. He represented himself at trial and argued that the law itself was unjust. He refused to argue his case as a conscientious objector because he felt that was simply a form of cooperation with the government's actions in Vietnam. Kehler was found guilty and served twenty-two months of a two year sentence for his act of resistance.
By 1973, Kehler was participating in local community organizing and economic development work in Western Massachusetts. He co-founded the Traprock Peace Center in 1979, served as National Coordinator for the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign from 1981 to 1984. From 1986-1988, he worked on staff of the Peace Development Fund's Exchange Program, offering strategic advice for grassroots justice and peace groups across the country. In 1989, Kehler was also one of the founders of the Working Group on Electoral Democracy to encourage political reform and create a pro-democracy movement in the United States. Kehler married Betsy Corner in 1976, and they had their first child, a daughter, in the following year.
In 1977, the first year that they had a taxable income, Kehler and Corner decided to withhold their federal income tax as a protest against United States military expenditures and involvement in global human rights violations. The couple continued to pay state and local taxes and donated their federal tax money to various charities. Although the IRS response was slow, in 1989 they moved to foreclose on Kehler and Corner's Colrain home to recover back taxes. After finding no bidders when the house was put up for auction, the IRS bought the house themselves and began eviction proceedings. They arrested Kehler and Corner for trespassing on federal property in 1990, and when they returned to the house following their release in 1991, they were arrested yet again. After agreeing not to return to the house, Corner was released, but Kehler's refusal to cooperate earned him an additional six months in jail in Northampton for contempt of court. After another IRS auction resulted in a buyer for his Colrain home in February 1992, a group of friends and supporters of Kehler occupied the house for several weeks until they were forced out by the new owners, Danny and Terry Franklin, on April 15, 1992.
Despite being removed the house, the Kehlers continued to fight. A vigil was set up on the property that was sustained for over eighteen months by various affinity groups and supporters. Although the Franklins owned the house, the property surrounding it was owned by the Valley Community Land Trust (VCLT) and the water system was shared by the surrounding neighbors. As soon as the Franklins moved in, the VCLT took legal actions to have them removed based on several stipulations in the Kehlers' lease, including one that made the lease on the land non-transferable. During the eighteen months of sustained vigil outside the Colrain home, the protestors brought the Franklins water in hopes of reaching of amicable settlement. Ultimately, in 1994, after an undisclosed negotiated settlement, the Franklins vacated the house. However, the Kehlers declined to move back into the Colrain house, insisting that their actions were intended to protest the government's use of their tax dollars, not to regain their property. The Kehlers currently live in a house owned by Betsy's mother on another lot in the Valley Community Land Trust. They continue to withhold their federal income taxes and have said they will never own anything again.
The Randy Kehler Papers document the five year struggle (1989-1994) of war tax resisters Randy Kehler and his wife Betsy Corner to fight the Internal Revenue Service's seizure and sale of their home while raising awareness of government military expenditures and practices. The collection includes meeting minutes, notes, correspondence, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings; letters to the editor, essays, articles, plans and strategy for the vigil set outside the Kehler home, support committee information and actions, correspondence with government officials, IRS, and the Justice Department; hundreds of letters of support from all the country, court documents from the legal proceedings and political literature addressing the Kehlers' situation.
This collection is organized into five series:
The organized effort to protest the seizure of the Kehlers' Colrain home became known as the "Colrain Action." The Colrain Action was highly organized political protest that involved two main groups, the Support Committee and the Occupation Subcommittee (OSC). The Support Committee was responsible for fundraising, maintaining media relations, writing newsletters, coordinating public support and the overall direction of the campaign. The collection includes newsletters, meeting notes, press releases, a phone log, mailing lists, financial information, and various other materials that document their work.
The bulk of the correspondence in this series is from various supporters of the Colrain Action. Although some are well-known figures, such as Joan Baez, Dave Dellinger, and Barbara Bush, most of the letters are from normal people across the country who were inspired by the Kehlers and wrote letters of support. Kehler supporters sent many letters to politicians such as Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, Silvio Conte, and Paul Wellstone; many sent copies of these letters to the Kehlers, which are include here. The remainder of the series consists of correspondence between the Kehlers and people who were directly involved in the Colrain Action such as Juanita Nelson, Ed Argo, Mary Link and Don Mosley. Also included in this series is correspondence between the Kehlers, the Franklins, and their attorney, John Stobierski.
The legal series includes court documents from the four major cases that arose from the Colrain Action. United States v. Kehler/Corner is the case brought by the federal government against the Kehlers' for failing to pay their income taxes. In Commonwealth v. Kehler/Corner, the Kehlers faced trespassing charges for refusing to leave their property after the Internal Revenue Service seized their house. The charges against Betsy Corner were ultimately dropped in this case when she agreed not to return to the property, but Randy Kehler was jailed for his refusal to agree not to return to the property. Danny Franklin, in Franklin v. War Tax Resisters, ultimately brought suit against the Kehler supporters who maintained a vigil on the property of the Colrain home for over eighteen months. The Valley Community Land Trust v. Franklin is a suit brought by the owners of the land on which the Kehler home sits against Danny and Terry Franklin. The lease that the VCLT signed with the Kehlers was non-transferable; if the Franklins wanted to live on property in the VCLT they had to apply and be approved by the VCLT board. The Franklins failed to do this and the VCLT sought to have then legally removed.
This series contains correspondence with various lawyers and judges, a court schedule, forms and receipts from Hampshire County Jail, records of arrests, trespassing summons, policy reports and information on the mediation sessions between the Kehlers, the Franklins and the Valley Community Land Trust. Additionally, correspondence with the IRS, the IRS assessment of the Kehlers tax situation, the rules and regulations for seizing property, various articles on legal issues, and correspondence with the Justice Department as well as Valley Community Land Trust by-laws, legal positions, general correspondence and the Kehlers' lease.
The Colrain Action generated a lot of media attention and not just in the local papers. Articles about the Kehlers ran in national magazines and newspapers. Many political organizations used the Kehlers' story as part of their literature and often ran updates on the Colrain situation in their newsletters. The series brings all that coverage together and arranges most of the articles by the name of the organization or magazine that published the article except the articles that were written by Randy Kehler, which are filed under his name. This series includes newspaper articles about the Kehlers and letters to the editor arranged by year as well as various political literature collected by the Kehlers.
This series is comprised of three scrapbooks that were put together by an unknown person. They contain newspaper clippings, newsletters, letters to the editor, photographs and flyers documenting the Colrain Action, and provide a good timeline of the events surrounding the seizure of the Kehlers' home and the subsequent protest.
War tax resister, resides on Valley Community Land Trust.
Essay on occupation of Kehler/Corner home.
Marblehead High School, Mass.
Randy Kehler's mother
Attorney for Danny and Terry Franklin.
Professor at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.
Assistant to President of Czech Republic.
United States Senator from Minnesota.
Letter addressing trespassing charges.
Group that awards peace activists.
Narrative of a tax resister.
War tax resister.
War tax resister.
From the sleeve of the 1987-1991 binder.
Acquired from Randy Kehler.
Processed by Dominique Tremblay, September 2005.
Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:
Randy Kehler Papers (MS 396). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.