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The IRS Blacklist

Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook’s attention was drawn last week to a front-page story in the New York Times about a small organization, based in Los Angeles, that is applying for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Called the Friends of Abe, it is a loose association of about 1,500 “players in the entertainment industry” who gather periodically to dine together and listen to invited speakers. 

IRS

Their meetings are not publicized, members are discreet about their membership, cameras aren’t allowed—and with good reason, according to the Times: “Friends of Abe keeps a low profile and fiercely protects its membership list, to avoid what it presumes would result in a sort of 21st-century blacklist.”

Worse, the IRS is on their case. The approval process for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status has been unusually protracted (two years), decidedly hostile, and recently included demands that Friends of Abe comply with a “10-point request for detailed information about its meetings” and reveal its membership roster. Once again, according to the Times, “Tax experts [say] that an organization’s membership list is information that would not typically be required” by the IRS.

All of this sounds awfully familiar to The Scrapbook, the stuff of novels, movies, documentary films, chilling memoirs, and college courses on the Cold War: the harassment of progressives, union activists, even the occasional Communist, in Hollywood—followed by blacklists, unemployment, poverty, sometimes suicide. 

The problem is that, to the extent that there was ever a blacklist for leftists, it was over in a handful of years, and the vast majority of victims spent the subsequent half-century working in Hollywood, submitting to friendly interviews, accepting awards, and appearing as talking heads in films about the McCarthy Era.

The Friends of Abe, as readers might have guessed, is an informal association of conservatives, not leftists, in Hollywood, which explains why they meet discreetly, are reluctant to divulge their members’ names, and fear (in the words of the New York Times, no less) “a sort of 21st-century blacklist.” It also explains, of course, why the Internal Revenue Service has singled them out for what might euphemistically be called special treatment. The IRS has a recent history of abusing its power by mistreating conservatives, and Hollywood has an older history of punishing dissenters. The names change, and the blacklists are drawn up by the left, not the right. But the story remains the same. 

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