A six month-long CBS4 I-Team investigation has uncovered a disturbing rise in the number of extremist groups. Those who monitor these movements say they haven’t seen this much activity since the days before Timothy McVeigh and the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
I-Team investigator Stephen Stock has discovered some of these groups are active here in the Sunshine State.
In his forty-four years in law enforcement, the last dozen of them as chief of West Memphis, Arkansas’s police department, Bob Paudert never experienced anything like what he happened upon on the side of an exit ramp on Interstate 40 last May when he responded to two of his officers being shot down.
“About here is where they had pulled the van over,” Chief Paudert said as he pulled his police cruiser over on I-40 to show a crew working for CBS4′s I-Team.
There is video of that traffic stop taken by two different police vehicles at the scene along the side of an exit ramp off Interstate 40 in West Memphis.
“You talk about a routine traffic stop,” Chief Paudert said of that stop. “There is no such thing in my opinion as routine traffic stop. (But) how much more routine can you get than stopping a van that’s registered to a church with a father and son in it? That’s about as routine as you can get.”
But as the police dashboard camera video shows the stop became anything but routine. Viewers of the video can watch as the van’s driver shows off a stack of papers instead of a driver’s license. Then the video shows an apparent argument over the legitimacy of those papers between the van’s driver and first one, then a second police officer.
As the police move to subdue the man, he pushes one officer away. Then in the background, almost as if it were a Hollywood horror movie, you see on the video a 16 year-old boy step out of the car with an AK-47 and open fire.
“No parent should have to go through the pain and misery that my wife had(to go through),” said Chief Paudert of that day.
You see, Chief Paudert had been heading out of town with his wife, Lynn.
Upon hearing about a shooting on the interstate he rushed to the scene with his wife alongside him in the passenger seat. Neither Chief Paudert nor his wife had any idea that his officers were involved. Nor that their son was involved.
“As I looked around I saw an officer on the ramp lying on his back with nobody around him and I said ‘Well, what? Why aren’t you guys up there with him?’” said Paudert.
It was too late. The officer on the ramp was dead. That officer was Bob Paudert’s son.
As he walked up to one of the fallen officers Chief Paudert realized one of the two police officers gunned down on the videotape by that 16 year-old that day was his own 39 year-old son, Brandon.
Brandon Paudert, who had been a police officer for seven years, died two weeks shy of his 40th birthday leaving behind a wife and children in addition to a stunned grieving small community.
The other officer to die was 9 year police veteran Bill Evans, who had initially pulled the van over and had been shot 11 different times by the 16 year-old wielding the AK-47.
The father and his 16 year-old son were later killed during another police shootout at a local Walmart. It was a shootout that was also caught on police dashboard camera videotape as well as store surveillance videotape. Father and son were later identified as Joseph and Jerry Kane who had been traveling the country giving seminars as members of the sovereign citizen movement. According to experts who study these groups, sovereign citizens is a movement that does not believe it answers to any authority or government but God.
“The kingdom of heaven is the registration (of their van),” said Chief Paudert.
“They do not believe that the government has any authority over them at all,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama.
Potok closely monitors such groups as the sovereign citizens, militias and racist hate groups in his position as Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He described the sovereign citizen philosophy in this way.
“Really, it’s about the idea that the federal government is you know a palpable evil,” said Potok. “(Sovereign citizens believe) there is a cabal of evil men that control the federal government that have plans. And they’re not good for you or me. They’re going to put us in concentration camps. They’ll force us into a socialistic one world order. That kind of thing.”
“They have no compassion for human life,” said Chief Paudert. “They’re terrorists. They need to be treated as terrorists.”
The FBI says that before they were stopped Interstate 40 in West Memphis, Jerry and Joseph Kane where headed to a home in Clearwater, Florida, where property records show Kane’s common law wife still lives.
In fact, a six month long CBS4 I-Team investigation has discovered a huge jump on talk in chat rooms, internet videos and actual activity such as that shooting along I-40 in West Memphis, among these so called extremist anti-government and hate groups not only in Florida but around the country.
“We count these groups every year and from 2008 to 2009 we saw a 244% increase in the number of these groups,” said Potok. “We hadn’t seen anything like it going all the way back to the mid ’90s when the militias were really active.”
Among those extremist groups tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center are not only sovereign citizen groups but also patriot groups including militias, as well Neo-Nazi’s, the Ku Klux Klan and white separatist groups.
“Certainly the level of anger and rhetoric has increased,” said Andrew Rosenkranz of the Anti-Defamation League which also tracks these groups.
Rosenkranz serves as Regional Director for the Florida Region of the Anti-Defamation League based in Boca Raton. The Anti-Defamation League also has been troubled by the growth in the rise in hate and anti-government groups.
“We are talking about a significant increase,” said Rosenkranz. “We are talking about, especially in the militia movement, for example, 50 groups growing to 200 groups over the course of the past two years.”
That concern extends to federal law enforcement.
“We’re clearly concerned about the domestic terrorism threat,” said Michael McPherson of the FBI’s Tampa Division.
FBI Special Agent McPherson serves as supervisor for the area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for Domestic Terrorism based out of Tampa. As such he’s in charge of monitoring hate and anti-government activity from Naples/Fort Myers to Jacksonville, everything from Neo-Nazi’s to skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan to other white resistance groups, militias to sovereign citizens.
“There does seem an uptick in it across the country particularly in this area. Our primary threat for domestic terrorism (in Central Florida) is the Sovereign Citizen movement,” said Special Agent McPherson
Special Agent McPherson points out that there’s nothing wrong with talking or holding militia, sovereign citizen or even white supremacist beliefs.
McPherson said that it is those individuals who act violently on those beliefs or what they believe is defense of those beliefs that worry the FBI.
“We’re concerned about the violent acts, perhaps the lone offender because of his thoughts or beliefs,” said McPherson.
Take for instance a video taken this July 6, 2009, and posted on-line on July 25, 2009, on the website YouTube by someone calling himself “TheMeissiah” (sic).
In the video you can clearly hear someone identified later as the person videotaping Josiah Fornof as he threatened two sheriff’s deputies who quietly and quickly leave Fornof’s property. The video shows that the deputies apparently were trying to serve papers on Fornof and his family on local code enforcement issues.
Fornof tells the deputies that they are trespassing and they “are to leave.” Then he says on the videotape that “we are in fear for our lives at this moment.”
Later in the videotape Fornof tells the deputies “if you come back we may bear arms against you” and “we are prepared to protect ourselves.” Then on the videotape Fornof tells his mother he’s going to quote “suit up” as if ready to do battle. Fornof had been convicted on two state criminal counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer, one count of battery on a law enforcement officer and one count of escape.
Click Here To See The Criminal Complaint
Because of that he is a convicted felon.
September 10, 2010, Fornof was indicted by a federal grand jury and arrested by the FBI for possession of a cache of weapons by a convicted felon.
Click Here To See The Indictment
In October, a man who identified himself as Josiah’s brother, Nathan, said he was there during the confrontation on the YouTube video defends their actions.
“He said he may bear arms. We were expecting them to come in here and murder us,” said Nathan Fornof.
While Nathan Fornof said he knows nothing of the sovereign citizen movement, some of the reasons he gives for their actions when sheriff’s deputies came on their property sound very much like the movement’s philosophy.
“We’ve been having them (sheriff’s deputies) come up here and threaten us on our grandfather’s property,” Nathan Fornof said. “They (sheriff’s deputies) stole my grandfather’s other property. And here since 1986 (sic) we’ve been filing every legal motion we can to the government and nobody is listening at all.”
West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert is listening.
“They think they can do whatever they want to do,” said Paudert.
Chief Paudert has vowed to turn his son Brandon’s death into a cause, warning everyone, especially other police agencies, about the potential danger of groups such as sovereign citizens.
“When we think of terrorists we think of international terrorists,” said Chief Paudert. “(Terrorists) that come over and bomb the Trade Center and the twin towers. But these are domestic terrorists and they are too willing to die for what they believe in.”
I-Team investigator Stephen Stock asked the Anti-Defamation League’s Andy Rozenkranz, “What disturbs you the most?”
“What disturbs me the most is that people get hurt,” said Rosenkranz. “What disturbs me the most is that sometimes these word bullets turn into real bullets and that’s tragic.”
“I’ve talked to a lot of upper level law enforcement officials who basically say what we feel is what its lacking is only a spark,” said Potok. “So back in ’90s that spark was Waco.”
Potok is referring to the 50 day standoff between the FBI and a group called the Branch Davidians. The group was led by a charismatic man named David Koresh who refused to surrender to federal agents. The standoff ended on April 19, 1993, when the compound where the Branch Davidians lived burned down during a shoot-out, killing 80 people inside including 25 children. Four federal agents were also killed and 16 were injured during the gun battle.
Some groups blamed the federal government for the Waco fire and stand-off.
Potok and other experts say the Waco shootout and fire prompted the growth of the militia and other anti-government group movement that culminated in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing by Timothy McVeigh in April, 1995, killing 168 people.
“That (Waco) really was the spark that set off the militia movement,” said Potok. “I think if we saw something similar to that some type of confrontation now it could easily explode.”
Special Agent McPherson also worries some spark could prompt another individual “lone wolf” to act out violently.
“The bottom line we’re trying to prevent terrorist attack,” said McPherson. “Whether it be a large scale attack on government building or smaller scale kill two police officers on the side of the road in West Memphis, Arkansas, we’re trying to prevent that before it happens.”
The CBS4 I-Team was unable to speak with Jerry Kane’s common law wife directly but in website postings she accused the West Memphis police of covering up what really happened and of quote “executing her husband.”
While many people associate these groups with those groups holding racist views such as the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and skinheads, experts say that has now changed.
While those groups still exist and have grown in numbers of late, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports at least three African American sovereign citizen groups based here in South Florida. And experts say most sovereign citizen and militia groups don’t aim their wrath at different racial groups but at the government which they often view as the enemy.
The I-Team discovered the existence of many different militia and sovereign citizens groups in Central and North Florida. They apparently are based in places ranging from Fort Myers to St Petersburg, Volusia County to Alachua County, Jacksonville west to near Tallahassee.
When the I-Team tried to reach out to some of these groups and get their views on camera, their representatives said they didn’t want media attention.