December 3, 1995

The Ragged Edge Freedom In The Woods Family Finds God And Independence In Isolation Of Rural Boundary County

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Profile: The Tanner family

The Tanner children sit at desks crammed in a room the size of a walk-in closet. Above is a wall-to-wall timeline of the Old Testament. Below that, the alphabet.

This is the children’s classroom, the basement of the Tanner home. It’s where Jackie Tanner and her husband, Steve, teach their kids about freedom and God - the one true “sovereign.”

The Tanners have built a comfortable rural life in the woods six miles northeast of Bonners Ferry while forsaking what they consider a false master - the government.

The 40-something couple says they don’t pay federal income taxes or use Social Security numbers. Steve Tanner has been arrested for refusing to register his car or get a driver’s license.

Such decisions have earned him catcalls around town.

No matter. “Our responsibility lies to our creator,” Jackie Tanner says.

The Tanners say their world view evolved through skepticism inherited from Steve’s parents and years of questioning things that didn’t seem right.

“If you think like a free man you’ll be one,” Steve Tanner says. “That’s the way I was raised.”

A military baby, he moved to Boundary County as a teenager, leaving to study business at the University of Idaho. He returned with a degree and his college sweetheart.

He supports his family with a cash-only, “underground” business of log-home building and carpentry. He scrambles for work and writes letters to newspapers bashing homosexuality, regulations and government institutions.

“We could almost count on him to write for every issue,” says Mike Boatman, editor of the weekly Kootenai Valley Times.

Jackie Tanner circulates a home-schooling newsletter to 60 other families. Some days, she and the children join other home-schoolers for bowling in town or skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

Her days are usually spent in the house her husband built 14 years ago, coaching a daughter through algebra or helping a son with the piano.

The home is warm and modern: A stereo rests near a brick fireplace, the living room lacks only a television.

A bookshelf covers one wall. It’s stocked with the “Federalist Papers,” books on avoiding taxes, and Christian pamphlets on U.S. history like “Our Godly American Heritage.”

That one taught Jackie that George Washington marched unscathed through a hail of bullets during the French and Indian War - proof, she says, that “God had a hand in our nation’s roots.”

Steve Tanner read that the 16th Amendment, which paved the way for the IRS, was improperly ratified in “The Law that Never Was.”

They take the lessons to heart.

Family property is clouded by a dozen tax liens filed and re-filed since 1985. But the property is shielded from IRS agents with titles held by Tanner’s father and family corporations.

The couple claims no bank account, preferring not to expose assets to Uncle Sam.

It’s an exhausting, fulfilling life.

“When you don’t go along, it’s never easy,” Steve Tanner says. But he adds, “it would be wrong to accept the status quo.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Color Photos


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