Sovereign citizens- deadly threats
Written by Mark Nichols
If you look up the definition of "terrorist" the dictionary says a terrorist is . . . "a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities." That describes Jerry Kane perfectly. If you haven't heard of Jerry Kane, he's a cop killing so-called "sovereign citizen." Kane and his 16-year-old son gunned down two West Memphis cops last spring. On May 20, Jerry Kane, an Ohio man who called himself a sovereign citizen, and his 16-year-old son, Joe, were stopped by Sgt. Brandon Paudert and officer Bill Evans on Interstate 40 in West Memphis.
The teenager fired an AK-47 rifle and killed both lawmen. Two other officers were wounded later before the Kanes were killed by police. It's never easy for an agency that loses one of their own. For the West Memphis P.D. and Chief Bob Paudert, the senseless murder of two cops, including Paudert's son Brandon was a horror not be wished on the worst of enemies.
It was also a wake up call for law enforcement about the incredible danger posed by so-called sovereign citizens. "My officers, Bill and my son Brandon, didn't realize that there are people at war with this country that are not international terrorists," Puadert said as he looked into the camera.
"Maybe if Brandon and Bill had been able to recognize the warning signs of sovereign beliefs they'd be alive today." But Paudert wasn't talking with a news crew in an interview. He was making a video to help other cops learn about the types of people that killed his son in cold blood.
The 12-minute officer-safety video, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, begins with Chief Paudert recounting the day, the bloodiest in Memphis-area law enforcement history. It was sent to 50,000 officers across the U.S. In the video, James Cavanaugh, retired ATF special agent in charge in Nashville, gives officers specific clues to look for that might indicate that someone's involved in the sovereign-citizen movement.
Things to be on the lookout for include fake license plates that display the names of strange nations or tribes as well as bumper stickers that say, "I am an American National" or "Not Subject to Corporate Federal or Corporate State Jurisdiction."
Other tell tale signs can be found in behavior. Sovereign citizens may provide officers with fake driver's licenses or Social Security cards and sometimes have strange responses to routine questions. For example, if a police officer asks the person's name, he might say, "I am a free man, traveling upon the land," Cavanaugh says in the video.
Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, estimated that 300,000 people are involved in the movement. "We were seeing increasing numbers of encounters between sovereign citizens and law enforcement officials," Potok told reporters from the Commercial Appeal.
"And the West Memphis case made it perfectly clear just how deadly those encounters could be." A dashboard video clip from the West Memphis incident showed the teen aiming an AK-47 assault rifle. Within seconds, he vanishes from the camera's view. But Vincent Brown, a FedEx driver who witnessed the shooting, told investigators in a statement that the elder Kane pushed Evans into the ditch. Then the teen opened fire.
Later that afternoon, law enforcement officials spotted the Kanes in the West Memphis Walmart parking lot, where father and son engaged police officers in another shootout. Both Kanes died at the scene. Potok said that because sovereign citizens' beliefs revolve around hatred for any governmental authority and that the laws don't apply to them, there's a high potential for conflict between them and officers.
"I think virtually all of the interest has been in understanding how to avoid potentially deadly confrontations," Potok said. Chief Paudert says it's still hard for him to talk about his son's death. "I'm using this agenda I have to get me through it, to say it's not all for nothing," he said of educating law enforcement officials about the sovereign-citizen movement.
"There's a reason for this, and it's to save lives. I'm trying to convince myself this is part of the reason this thing happened," Paudert told the Commercial Appeal.