IRS initiates safety probe after extremist rhetoric and conspiracy claims about giving guns to tax employees

The agency is conducting a comprehensive review of safety at its facilities following threats born of conspiracy theories.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to an increasing number of threats born of conspiracy theories that agents were going to aggressively target middle income taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday that it was conducting a comprehensive review of safety at its facilities.

The climate, healthcare and tax legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden last week included $80 billion in funding for tax collection efforts. Although Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen specifically directed the agency to not focus its attention on taxpayers with middle class incomes, misinformation spread rapidly online that agents were going to crack down on taxpayers of all earnings levels.

The baseless assertions also said the IRS would distribute firearms to employees authorized to used deadly force, prompting threats to the IRS employees.

A sign outside the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, on May 4, 2021. The Internal Revenue Service says it is conducting a comprehensive review of safety at its facilities. The action comes in response to an increasing number of threats born of conspiracy theories that agents were going to aggressively target middle-income taxpayers. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Now agency leadership has launched an examination of agency safety.

“We are conducting a comprehensive review of existing safety and security measures,” said Chuck Rettig, IRS commissioner about the agency’s 600 office locations nationwide. “This includes conducting risk assessments,” he said, by monitoring perimeter security, designations of restricted areas, exterior lighting, security around entrances of facilities and other measures.

“For me this is personal. I’ll continue to make every effort to dispel any lingering misperceptions about our work,” Rettig said in a Tuesday letter to employees. “And I will continue to advocate for your safety in every venue where I have an audience.”

Rettig, whose term at the IRS ends in November, is tasked with developing a plan on how to spend the new infusion of funds included in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Along with anonymous online forums, high-ranking Republican politicians have spread falsehoods about the IRS workforce and how the newly allocated funds would be spent.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., sent an August 16 open letter to Americans, calling on them not to take any new IRS positions, reinforcing false information about open roles at the agency and their access to firearms.

“The IRS is making it very clear that you not only need to be ready to audit and investigate your fellow hardworking Americans, your neighbors and friends, you need to be ready and, to use the IRS’s words, willing, to kill them,” he said in the letter.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said members have been vocal about their fears and worries about their safety.

“IRS employees are certainly very hard working and honest, they do the business of funding the government. They’re saying they don’t deserve to be treated as the enemy of the government,” he said.

He added that members who are of retirement age have expressed a greater desire to retire due to the increased attention on their jobs. More than half of the IRS’ enforcement workforce of 80,000 is retirement eligible.

Reardon said several workers have talked about being reminded of the 2010 Austin, Texas suicide attack, where Andrew Joseph Stack III deliberately crashed his single engine plane into the Echelon office building, killing himself and Internal Revenue Service manager Vernon Hunter.

“The rhetoric we’re hearing now is dangerous” Reardon said. “It’s putting these patriotic Americans at risk.”

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