The IRS, Charlie Manson And Pirates Versus Patriots
May 15, 2013 at 3:29 PM
Teresa Platt

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is discouraging “patriots” working to “make America a better place” while giving Charlie Manson’s followers and “pirates” tax-exempt status.

The IRS sanctioned Sea Shepherd’s “pirates” as a tax-exempt charity in 1982 and gave Charlie Manson’s Air Trees Water and Animals (ATWA) tax-exempt status in 2012 - for the second time.  ATWA was first issued tax exempt status in 1997 but after the families of Manson’s murder victims and others complained in 1999, ATWA lost its charitable status. Temporarily, it seems.

In an article entitled “In defense of tree-spiking” published by the Earth First! Journal in 1990, Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, said:

I was the person who first thought up the tactic of tree-spiking and as such I feel obligated to defend this child of my imagination.

In 2013, the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco labeled Sea Shepherd “pirates”  and the group announced its leader Paul Watson had jumped ship to avoid arrest. 

But Sea Shepherd’s status as an IRS-sanctioned charity seems secure. 

Beyond “pirates” supporting tree-spiking, the IRS believes Charlie Manson’s supporters are worthy of tax-exempt charitable status. 

The California Secretary of State’s website reveals Charlie’s group Air Trees Water and Animals, ATWA, once suspended, went active again in 2011: 

The IRS followed California in 2012 when it granted ATWA tax exempt charitable status (EIN 77-0405193) and, with the IRS’s blessing, ATWA is now busy raising money from the public on its website and Facebook.

The IRS describes ATWA’s work promoting Charlie Manson’s philosophy as: 

Environmental Quality Protection, Beautification.

At least Manson’s followers were smart enough to not say they wanted “to make America a better place.”

So, if you’re a “patriot” working “to make America a better place,” you’ll have trouble clearing IRS scrutiny.  

But if you’re a pirate promoting tree spiking or a Charlie Manson groupie, you’ll sail right through.

Go figure.


Teresa Platt is the Director of the Environment and Enterprise Institute at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Top Photo:; Sea Shepherd’s pirate flag: Discovery Channel; Chart: California Secretary of State; Charlie Manson’s August 1996 Mugshot: California State Prison, Corcoran.

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