A look at the "sovereign citizen" movement

Byron Pitts reports on a movement the FBI now considers one of the nation's top domestic terror threats

Update: An earlier version of this report included a screen shot of the website of The Sovereign Society. The Sovereign Society is a publishing company that provides advice on investment and tax strategies to maximize personal wealth and autonomy. The Society counsels its readers that tax evasion is illegal and warns against "declaring yourself a 'sovereign citizen' who supposedly is no longer subject to laws, courts or taxes." The Society does not condone violence and has never been accused of violent behavior.

This is a story about a group of Americans you've likely never heard of: they're called "sovereign citizens." Many don't pay taxes, carry a driver's license or hold a Social Security card. They have little regard for the police or the courts, and some have become violent.

The FBI lists them among the nation's top domestic terror threats.

By some estimates, there are as many as 300,000 sovereign citizens in the U.S. And with the sluggish economy and mortgage mess, their ranks are growing.

It's just the kind of movement that attracted people like Jerry Kane. A divorced, out-of-work truck driver from Ohio, Kane became a sovereign citizen in 2003 when he lost his house to foreclosure. To earn a living, he and his son began crisscrossing the country peddling a debt reduction scam.

Kane promised that by tapping into an imaginary government account people could achieve financial salvation. "It fits in all kinds of situations. It doesn't matter what we're talking about...traffic ticket, IRS, mortgage, credit card, hospital bill, child support. Whatever it is," he told an audience at one of his seminars.

By 2009, Kane's self confidence and trademark white jacket could only mask reality. In truth, he was flat broke. His debt elimination seminars were a bust.

As a sovereign citizen, Kane didn't carry a driver's license. His car was registered to a bogus charity. Traffic stops led to arrests, and with each one, Kane's anger towards authority deepened.

"I don't want to have to kill anybody. But if they keep messing with me, that's what it's going to have to come out, that's what it's going to come down to is I'm gonna have to kill. And if I have to kill one, then I'm not going to be able to stop," Kane said at one of his seminars.

Absorbing it all was Kane's 16 year-old son, Joe, home-schooled and raised on sovereign ideology.

On May 20, 2010, the Kanes minivan was pulled over on I-40 by two West Memphis, Ark. police officers.

A dashboard camera captured what happened next: Kane got out of the van. He appeared argumentative. Instead of a license, he had handed over a document declaring his sovereignty. The officers seemed confused by it. Then, there was a scuffle.

Young Joe Kane jumped from the van and began firing an AK-47. Fifty eight seconds later, as the Kanes prepared to flee, the teenager fired four more times.

A truck driver called 911.

"I heard a call go out on my radio, and it said 'Officer down!' The second time she says two officers down at mile marker 275," West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert told correspondent Byron Pitts.

Chief Paudert was among the first to arrive. One officer lay motionless on the roadway; a second was in a ditch. Fellow cops came to his aid.

"They kept sayin', 'Bill, you're gonna be okay, Bill, you're gonna be okay.' Well I knew then it was Bill Evans. And I ran down the hill to Bill. He was wounded very badly. And as I started up the incline a sergeant was there and he stopped me. He said, 'Chief, please don't go up there.' I said, 'Is it Brandon?' He said, 'Yes,'" Paudert remembered.

"Brandon" is Sgt. Brandon Paudert, the chief's 39 year-old son.

"I went up there. And Brandon was lying on his back with his gun still in his right hand, clutched in his hand," Paudert remembered.

Brandon Paudert died instantly from a bullet to the head; Bill Evans was declared dead at a hospital. They had taken 25 bullets between them.

The police cornered Jerry and Joe Kane 90 minutes later. The Kanes wounded two more lawmen before they were killed in a WalMart parking lot.

Produced by Clem Taylor

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