Home recent The Court Says They’re Pirates, the IRS Says They’re a Nonprofit
Home recent The Court Says They’re Pirates, the IRS Says They’re a Nonprofit

The Court Says They’re Pirates, the IRS Says They’re a Nonprofit

In Front Page Magazine’s extensive series on the leftist organizations that the IRS has allowed to keep their tax deductible status, we have covered Chinese Communist front groups, art vandals, domestic terrorists, pedophiles, illegal alien smugglers and the enablers of murderers.

Every time we dive deeper into these investigations, someone asks if there’s anywhere that the IRS will draw the line. A few weeks ago, someone suggested pirates. Surely there couldn’t be nonprofit pirates with tax deductible donations that the IRS has decided is a legitimate charity.

Not only is there a pirate nonprofit, but it’s been denounced by the court, described as eco-terrorists by the FBI, and has shown up on Interpol’s Red Notice while being the subject of international incidents without ever persuading the IRS to drop its 501(c)(3) status.

A decade ago, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling stated that, “you don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate.”

The group in question was Sea Shepherd: a trendy anti-fishing organization whose celebrity supporters included Pamela Anderson, Martin Sheen and Sean Penn. And a decade after the Court of Appeals stated that Sea Shepherd’s alleged acts were “clear instances of violent acts for private ends, the very embodiment of piracy”, Sea Shepherd maintains a presence on Facebook, Amazon, YouTube and other Big Tech platforms that purged conservations for “extremism”,where it sells merchandise featuring its version of the skull and bones pirate flag.

And it has retained its status with the IRS as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charity for over 40 years.

In 2002, the Domestic Terrorism Section Chief of the FBI told the House Resources Committee that Sea Shepherd was an example of “eco-terrorism”. The IRS took no action even when it was caught harboring a nonprofit that federal law enforcement had described as eco-terrorists.

Unlike many of the other leftist groups we previously profiled, the IRS did begin an audit of Sea Shepherd a few months after the Court of Appeals ruling. The token IRS effort was likely in response to pressure from Japan whose whaling ships faced harassment from the group.

While the IRS has ignored conservative protests over tax deductible status being granted to domestic terrorist groups, the Japanese government spent years lobbying to suspend Sea Shepherd’s nonprofit status. After a court ruling described the group as pirates, the Japanese could not believe that the Obama administration still refused to take action. Finally the Japanese embassy turned directly to the IRS, including contacting Lois Lerner, who would become infamous for her role in the IRS targeting of conservative and Jewish opponents of Obama.

The IRS went through the motions of auditing Sea Shepherd, then it dispatched a letter claiming that “our examination of the information return(s) indicated above disclosed that your organization continues to qualify for exemption from Federal income tax.” The Internal Revenue Service does not however seem to have consulted the Court of Appeals, the FBI or the law.

As the Freedom Center’s pamphlet, Internal Radical Service by David Horowitz and John Perazzo, discusses, regulations state that “exempt purposes may generally be equated with the public good, and violations of law are the antithesis of the public good”. They warn that, “violation of constitutionally valid laws is inconsistent with exemption under IRC 501(c)(3)” and that “planned activities that violate laws are not in furtherance of a charitable purpose”.

Is piracy not the antithesis of the public good? Which part of ramming ships or hurling containers of acid would the IRS consider to be in the furtherance of a charitable purpose?

Some years earlier, the IRS had demanded that the Coalition for Life of Iowa explain “how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3).” Did the IRS ask Sea Shepherd how “hurling fiery and acid-filled projectiles” is considered educational?

To the IRS, praying outside abortion clinics might be a violation, but not sinking ships.

Until its recent makeover, Sea Shepherd was not shy about its activities.

“I’ve sunk ten whaling ships and destroyed tens of millions of dollars’ worth of illegal fishing gear, and I’m not in jail,” Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd’s founder and until its recent pivot, a leading figure in the group, had boasted. The IRS was surely aware of such statements.

While the IRS failed to take action, the Court of Appeals issued a permanent injunction in 2016 barring Sea Shepherd from “physically attacking” ships from Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research. The IRS did not believe that “physically attacking” was a problem for a nonprofit.

The IRS not only shrugged off accusations of piracy and eco-terrorism, it also ignored the attempted murder charges. Watson had been arrested in Germany a year before the audit for an outstanding charge of “causing a danger of drowning” in Costa Rica over a confrontation with shark hunters that was later dropped. Interpol issued a Red Notice for Watson over the incident.

The IRS shrugged at Interpol as it had at the FBI, the Court of Appeals and multiple countries.

Japan however issued its own Interpol Red Notice for Watson which blocked Sea Shepherd’s ability to obtain insurance. Watson was forced out and officially resigned in 2022. Sea Shepherd has rebranded as working with governments to fight illegal poaching and has sued Watson for “infringement, unfair competition, false advertising,” and, ironically, “cyberpiracy” over his use of its ‘Jolly Roger’ pirate flag for his own operation.

Watson, who has pledged to continue the fight, launched his own organization: Sea Shepherd Origins, and he’s raising money through the Paul Watson Foundation. The Foundation’s purpose is to “carry on Captain Paul Watson’s effective agenda” “through a unique strategy of aggressive non-violence.”

Despite everything, the Watson Foundation was approved by the IRS as a 501(c)(3).

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.

Thank you for reading.


  1. Anonymous27/2/23

    Anderson, Sheen and Penn. In other words, all the usual suspects. Their website looks so professional. And we learn that they're all about saving the vaquita (porpoise species) of which there are now only 20 'individuals' left. Probably too small a sample to be viable. Of course, referring to porpoise as 'individuals' is somewhat telling. So I ask you...how could be possibly be against helping the vaquita? You monster, you.

    1. the horror, the humanity, the vaquitanity

  2. Anonymous27/2/23

    Species arise and are discovered faster than
    they are claimed to disappear. It's nature's
    way. Also, people need to know that meat comes
    from animals. We are carnivores; deal with it.



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