The two West Memphis, Ar., police officers who pulled over an old, white van two years ago today knew neither about the father and son occupants nor the sovereign citizen movement they espoused. FBI investigative files obtained by the Memphis Commercial Appeal under the Freedom of Information Act show the FBI had been tracking Ohio-born Jerry Kane since at least 2004. Agents suspected him of various financial fraud schemes in several states, but never charged him with a crime.
There’s no hint in the massive record that agents knew Kane and his 16-year-old son, Joe, crisscrossed the country armed with an AK-47. Even after probes in Oklahoma, California, and Ohio, records show, nothing suggests the agency suspected Kane would turn violent against law enforcement officials. When Kane’s son killed Sgt. Brandon Paudert and officer Bill Evans at exit 275, the FBI’s investigation of a potential network of like-minded friends and potential co-conspirators quickly became an intensive national effort. In the two years since the shootings, the FBI has warned of sovereign citizens’ growing threat to law enforcement. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks hate groups, has documented a proliferation of its adherents nationwide. “West Memphis woke a lot of us up to how bad this situation really is,” said the center’s Mark Potok. “I think things are likely to get worse before they get better.”