They hate the US government, and they’re multiplying: the terrifying rise of ‘sovereign citizens’
While US counter-terrorism efforts remain locked on Islamist extremism, the growing threat from homegrown, rightwing extremists is even more pressing
By J Oliver Conroy
May 15 2017
On 20 May 2010, a police officer pulled over a white Ohio minivan on Interstate 40, near West Memphis, Arkansas. Unbeknown to officer Bill Evans, the occupants of the car, Jerry Kane Jr, and his teenage son, Joseph Kane, were self-described “sovereign citizens”: members of a growing domestic extremist movement whose adherents reject the authority of federal, state and local law.
Kane, who traveled the country giving instructional seminars on debt evasion, had been posing as a pastor. Religious literature was laid out conspicuously for anyone who might peer into the van, and, when Evans ran the van’s plates, they came back registered to the House of God’s Prayer, an Ohio church. Also in the van, though Evans did not know it, were weapons Kane had bought at a Nevada gun show days earlier.
Kane had been in a series of run-ins with law enforcement. After the most recent incident, a month earlier, he had decided that the next time a law enforcement officer bothered him would be the last.
Another officer patrolling nearby, Sgt Brandon Paudert, began to wonder why Evans was taking so long on a routine traffic stop. When he pulled up at the scene, he saw Evans and Kane speaking on the side of the highway. Evans handed him some puzzling paperwork that Kane had provided when asked for identification – vaguely official-looking documents filled with cryptic language. He examined the papers while Evans prepared to frisk Kane.
Suddenly, Jerry Kane turned and tackled Evans, knocking him down into a ditch. The younger Kane vaulted from the passenger side of the minivan and opened fire with an AK-47. Evans, an experienced officer who also served on the Swat team, was fatally wounded before he even drew his weapon. Paudert was struck down moments later while returning fire.
As the two officers bled out on the side of the highway, the Kanes jumped back in their van and sped off. A FedEx trucker who witnessed the shooting called 911.
The Kanes’ ideological beliefs – which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) believesare shared by “well into the tens of thousands” of Americans – put them under the broad umbrella of the “Patriot” movement, a spectrum of groups who believe the US government has become a totalitarian and repressive force.
Although the Trump administration is reportedly planning to restructure the Department of Homeland Security’s countering violent extremism (CVE) program to focus exclusively on radical Islam, a 2014 national survey of 175 law enforcement agencies ranked sovereign citizens, not Islamic terrorists, as the most pressing terrorist threat. The survey ranked Islamic terrorists a close second, with the following top three threats all domestic in origin and sometimes overlapping: the militia movement, racist skinheads, and the neo-Nazi movement.
Though the federal CVE program already devotes almost the entirety of its resources to organizations combatting jihadism, the White House feels that the current name is “needlessly ‘politically correct’”, an anonymous government source told CNN.
Paudert’s father – who also happened to be the West Memphis chief of police – was driving home with his wife when he heard chatter on the police scanner about an officer-down situation on the interstate.
He headed to the scene, assuming a state trooper had been attacked. He then saw a figure in uniform sprawled at the bottom of the embankment. It was Bill Evans, his gun still locked in its holster.
Paudert then saw another body lying on the asphalt behind the vehicles. One of his officers tried to block him from going further. “Please,” he pleaded, “don’t go around there.” Paudert shoved him aside. As he came around the corner he saw his son, Brandon. Part of his head had been blown off. His arm was outstretched and his pistol still clutched in his hand.
Images of his son as a child, growing up, flooded through his mind. Then he saw his wife, who had been waiting in the car, coming toward him. He moved to stop her. “Is it Brandon?” she asked. “Yes, it is,” he said. “Is he OK?” she asked. “No,” he said, and she broke down.