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.