"We hold these truths to be self-evident," droned the crowd crammed into the Irvine Atrium Hotel's Bougainvillea Conference Room, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The crowd continued through the Declaration of Independence: voices proud, Stetsons cocked, hair frazzled, suspenders and sweat pants stretched.
The occasion for such oration was the 2006 Health and Freedom Conference, an annual event organized by Phelan-based Freedom Law School that invites the best and brightest conspiracists to Orange County for a weekend. Saturday and Sunday would bring speakers who would address such subjects as 9/11 ("What Really Happened?"), vaccines ("Killing Us Slowly?"), the Constitution ("Dead?"), the FBI and CIA ("Harming Americans?"), and the one-world government ("Coming?"). But on this opening Friday, about 150 people paid $60 for a seminar taught by Freedom Law School president Peymon Mottahedeh that promised to show students "how we can wipe the IRS off of Americans' lives!"
Mottahedeh is a former Tustin resident who travels the country touting his organization, which claims to teach Americans how to stop paying taxes. Interested parties must subscribe to one of Mottahedeh's programs, which start at $300 for an eight-CD course that includes a DVD tour of the Orange County Law Library and continue through the Royal Freedom Package, which promises that Freedom Law School will "respond on your behalf" if the IRS harasses you for not filing taxes. The latter costs just $6,000, plus an annual membership charge of $2,000—$2,500 if you live in California.
"Income tax goes at the heart of slavery versus freedom," Mottahedeh told the Atrium crowd in his opening remarks. Short but buff, with a chin like Leno's and hair like Sean Hannity's, the Persian immigrant went on to attack "King George" Bush, compared the CIA to the SS, said government was "hell-bent on protecting the interests of big business" and assured listeners that "you're the masters of government."
If his approach seems a bit paranoid, that's because it is. Freedom Law School, according to its website, "was founded to assist those freedom-loving and self-responsible people who are committed to living their lives free of oppressive control and taxation by governments and their agents and live free, in pursuit of happiness."
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But it has also attracted the watchful eye of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center for some of its invited speakers. In 2004, for instance, the Health and Freedom Conference keynote speaker was Hutton Gibson, the father of actor Mel, who gained worldwide notoriety for claiming the Second Vatican Council was a Jewish-generated Masonic plot. Previous speakers have included Willis Carto, founder of the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review in Newport Beach, and documentarian Anthony J. Hilder, whose film 9-11: The Greatest Lie Ever Soldalleges the United States government caused the World Trade Center attacks.
Mottahedeh and a subsequent speaker tried to talk about the IRS, but the crowd would have none of it. Some stood up and harped on a specific tax code; 72-14, which concerns the inheritance tax, was frequently cited. Others loudly debated the Constitution—the crowd booed a guy who claimed the Ninth Amendment, not the Fourth, guaranteed the right to bear arms. At another point, a man stood up. "Why are you quoting case law when it's not law?" he demanded. "What about the Constitution?"
"That hasn't been law since they ratified the 14th Amendment!" shouted another man. That's the amendment, by the way, that outlawed slavery. And it continued like this throughout the weekend, with Mottahedeh smiling at all times like the luckiest bastard on earth.