IRS launches security review after Republican criticism and right-wing threats


The Internal Revenue Service will launch a comprehensive security review of its facilities nationwide, Commissioner Charles Rettig announced Tuesday, as congressional Republicans and far-right extremists lash out at the agency and new funding it is expected to receive under a massive spending bill.

“We see what’s out there in terms of social media. Our staff are concerned about their safety,” Rettig told The Washington Post in an interview. “The comments made are extremely disrespectful to the agency, the employees and the country.”

In a letter to employees sent Tuesday, he wrote that the agency would conduct risk assessments for each of the IRS’ 600 facilities and assess whether to increase security patrols along building exteriors, strengthen designations for restricted areas, review security around entrances and assess exterior lighting. It will be the agency’s first such examination since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which killed 168 people.

“To me, this is personal,” Rettig wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Post. “I will continue to do everything possible to dispel any lingering misperceptions about our work. And I will continue to advocate for your safety in all places where I have an audience. You go above and beyond every day, and I am honored to work with each of you.

The IRS is set to receive $80 billion in new funding over 10 years under President Biden’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act. The money is designed to help the agency better crack down on tax evasion and bolster law enforcement on high-income people and large corporations, including a major hiring campaign to help the IRS compensate over a decade of underfunding.

But Republicans seized tax collector funding to attack the law, which also includes funds to address the climate crisis and lower health care costs. GOP members of Congress falsely claimed that many of the agency’s 87,000 new recruits would be armed and that new enforcement measures would target low- and middle-income taxpayers and small businesses.

Many Republicans have drawn baseless comparisons between the new IRS funding and the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

“They have 80,000 employees. You know what the IRS has too? 4,600 guns. 5 million rounds. Why? Democrats want to double its already massive size,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) told the House this month, days after the FBI raid.

“With this new power, the IRS is going to snoop through your bank account, your Venmo, your small business. Then the government will shake you down to the last penny,” he added. “In light of [the FBI’s search of Trump’s residence]let me ask: do you really trust this administration’s IRS to be fair, not to abuse its power? »

“Think about it: If the left is weaponizing the FBI to raid President Trump’s personal residence, they will surely be weaponizing the 87,000 new IRS agents, many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force, to go after any American citizen”. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) said this month on the floor of the House.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, wrote an open letter to job seekers last week discouraging them from applying to work at the IRS. His letter relies on a job posting for an IRS criminal investigator — a position that requires serving search warrants and making arrests — to suggest that all new IRS hires “will need to be prepared to audit and investigate your hard-working American colleagues, neighbors and friends, you must be prepared and, in the words of the IRS, readyto kill them.

In fact, of the IRS’s more than 78,000 employees, less than 3,000 work in criminal investigations and carry firearms.

“This is a reputational blow to IRS and IRS employees and our country,” Rettig said. “… This speech [about armed IRS agents] needs to be contextualized about what might be right and what is absolutely wrong, and that seems to be missing in the dialogue that exists. This country would not function without a functioning Internal Revenue Service.

Employees told the Post that right-wing rhetoric raised concerns that workers could be targeted in their workplaces or in public if they are identified as IRS employees.

David Carrone, president of the Louisiana-Arkansas National Treasury Employees Union chapter, has tried to allay his colleagues’ concerns in recent days and persuade them not to leave the agency.

“It terrifies me. This is why I don’t tell people I work for the IRS,” an employee wrote to him in an email this week, which Carrone read to The Post.

Lorie McCann, president of the Chicago-area chapter, reminded union members not to wear their work identification badges outside of the office so as not to attract undue attention. Some colleagues who work in private buildings rented by the IRS have asked about security improvements in their workplace. Others who work in federal buildings have told her they fear their facility could be targeted by domestic terrorists, she said.

“The fact that employees are scared — I’m scared — it’s sad,” said McCann, who has worked at the agency for 31 years.

NTEU Chairman Tony Reardon wrote to Rettig on Saturday asking the commissioner to launch a security review.

“Employees are very concerned that all of this negative rhetoric and the climate that has developed as a result could lead to real threats to employees,” Reardon told the Post.

IRS employees say they are reprimanded by years of threats and harassment toward federal employees, and especially those at the tax agency, long an enemy of far-right groups. The agency saw sporadic but sustained violent attacks between the 1970s and 1990s, when extremist groups targeted the IRS to vent broader anti-government sentiments, experts say.

In 2010, a Texas man flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, killing one agency employee and injuring 13 others, after he espoused specifically anti-tax conspiracy theories. Earlier this month, a gunman tried to break into an FBI office in Cincinnati days after the office raided Trump’s home.

This again raised security concerns, IRS employees said.

“You have to look at the larger context where it’s not just this issue of the IRS budget increase, but it’s about this time when our institutions of government are being attacked verbally and otherwise, left and right now. The IRS is embedded in that,” said Mark Pitcavage, senior researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

Memes and other posts circulating on social media have taken inspiration from GOP talking points on the IRS to call for violence against federal employees, Pitcavage and other experts told the Post.

A channel sponsored by the far-right extremist group Proud Boys on the social media platform Telegram repeated the lie that new IRS recruits must be “willing to use lethal force”. Other memes online compared IRS employees to Nazi SS officers and suggested taxpayers organize a “tea party” and tar and feather tax collectors.

A Republican candidate for Florida legislature has called on residents to “Shoot the FBI, IRS, ATF and every other Fed on sight.”

“Our democracy is in crisis,” said Lindsay Schubiner, who studies anti-government movements at the Western States Center think tank. “And we see every week the impact of rising political violence that is directly linked to the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology.”

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

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