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WASHINGTON -- Members of local tea parties from across the country came to Capitol Hill Thursday to tell the world of mistreatment by the IRS that was so astounding it seemed more like Orwell's 1984 than Obama's 2013.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., who organized the news conference, was joined by a who's who of GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
McConnell said he first heard of the threats against government critics in the summer of 2012.
"At the time, the Washington Post and others said it was just a red-herring," he said. "Now we know it really happened. These horror stories of the government attempting to quiet the voice of critics is apparently rather rampant."
Paul, chairman of the tea party caucus in the Senate, said there's "something profoundly un-American about targeting your political opponents, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or an independent in this country."
"To take the abuse of a $3.8 trillion government to stifle opposition is profoundly un-American," Paul said.
Cruz observed that in the last couple of weeks "we've had a series of disturbing revelations, all of which share common elements."
"An arrogance and view of the machinery of government as a tool for partisan politics to punish your political enemies, and a really dismaying willingness to mislead and deceive the American people."
Lee warned that the three events "that have gotten so much attention over the last few days, IRS, AP and Benghazi, tend to confirm a lot of our worst fears about our government."
"They tend to tell us what we don't want to believe, but sometimes might be true, that your government's targeting you, your government's spying on you and that your government's lying to you," Lee said.
According to Gohmert: "You have a government that is forcing people to get a legal status in order to just come up here and have their voices heard, and then once they force you into this funnel of having to have legal status, they use that to intimidate and abuse, to prevent opposite views from being heard."
Bachmann herself saw even greater problems looming.
"This is extremely troubling because the axiom is, the power to tax is the power to destroy," she said. "And now with the implementation of Obamacare at hand, and knowing that it is the IRS that will be the enforcing mechanism for this new entitlement program, it's very important and reasonable to ask if a person's access to health care may be based upon their political or religious beliefs."
She said questions like that "would've been considered out of bounds a week ago."
"Today, these questions are considered more than reasonable for the American people," she said.
The story of Gary Johnston, a retired police officer from Kingston, Tenn., seemed to typify the abuse suffered by many rank-and-file tea party members at the hands of the IRS.
Johnston told WND he put together a small tea party group in 2009 and had no plans to file for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(4) organization. But the IRS told him he had to do it. So, he first filled out a 19 page questionnaire in March of 2010. In August, the IRS sent him another form with 22 more questions, and embedded within those were another 60 questions.
"A lot of the questions struck me as strange," Johnston said.
"Intrusive, terrible questions. They wanted to know any and every email that's ever come to us or sent by us, personal or private, that might be construed to be political. They wanted to know everybody that was coming to our meetings, if we charged money, who donated, what the donations were. They wanted to know everything about our personal lives and our families' personal lives -- anyone in our family that might be politically connected."
What sort of personal information did the IRS want to know?
"They wanted to know who we were affiliated with, what we did, what we aspired to do, what positions we might run for politically. They were asking questions that you could not answer, but could trap you."
Did they ask you anything about reading material?
"Oh, yes, they asked any and all literature that you've ever had disseminated or had sent to you; anything that's ever been written about you; anything you've ever written on a blog or to a newspaper. They asked me for outlines of what I've been reading, you could call that a book report. They asked what we were really trying to accomplish. It went on and on and on."
After 70 days of filling out all sorts of intrusive documents, Johnston finally consulted a CPA and tax attorney. He sayid the attorney took one look at the material and said, "What did you do to upset the IRS? You've made somebody angry. I've never seen anything like this in my life. 80 percent of this is illegal. They can't ask you this stuff."
She advised Johnston not to respond to many of the questions and not provide the IRS with much of the material it had requested. The IRS then sent him a form with another 40 questions, including some of the same questions he had refused to answer earlier.
Then Johnston's group started getting "a lot of calls from the IRS."
"These IRS agents who were calling us were apologetic. They were saying 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry. ... I'm with you guys, I have to do this. This is part of my job.'"
Johnston said their bosses, at the Cincinnati office, "were telling them they have to do this."
After another series of questions, tax-exempt status was finally approved for Johnston's group on April 15, 2013, some three years after applying and well after the 2012 presidential election.
Another case was reported to WND in which the IRS apparently didn't acknowledge receiving letters sent multiple times.
It was for the group American Grizzlies United.
Chairman Thomas Schmitz told WND that after filing a request for tax status, he was asked for the form a second time. Ultimately, he sent it four times after receiving letters back from the agency each quarter saying he had failed to send in the form.
He said he spent two years trying to establish his organization under IRS guidelines.
Even attempts to file the form online failed, and support technicians for the IRS website claimed problems with the site would be "fixed soon."
This week the IRS is sending him letters again, not asking why the form wasn't filed but why it was "filed late."