February 18, 2010
The plane crash in Austin, Texas, isn't the first attack on an IRS office. In 1997, a fire destroyed an IRS office in Colorado Springs, and in 1999, a fire damaged the IRS' new offices.
On May 3, 1997, a man wielding a sledgehammer shattered a ground-floor plate-glass door at the Bell Tower building at 2070 N. Academy Blvd., then broke into the IRS office on the third floor. Dousing the office with 5 gallons of gasoline, the man set off a fire shortly before midnight that caused part of the roof to collapse.
Two years later, on April 9, 1999, the Internal Revenue Service was targeted again, at its new offices at 1259 Lake Plaza Drive. A ground-floor window was shattered, and about a gallon of gasoline spread around. That fire, also set shortly before midnight, damaged but did not destroy the IRS office.
Similar, but never officially linked, the two attacks on the IRS were called “unprecedented” by federal authorities, who searched four years for the arsonists before arresting a self-proclaimed patriot in November 2001.
James Floyd Cleaver, a one-time write-in candidate for 4th Judicial District attorney and founder of a group called Sons of Liberty, was convicted in August 2003 of setting the 1997 fire and sentenced three months later to 33 years in prison. Two accomplices also went to prison.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, then serving as the state’s U.S. attorney, hailed the verdict as a “victory.”
“These are folks who pass up lawful means available to them to let their views be known,” he said.
According to testimony during the trial, Cleaver’s plot grew out of his hatred for the federal government. By burning down the IRS office, Cleaver hoped to force the federal government to sign a treaty with him under which he would no longer be under its jurisdiction.