July 9, 2010

Earlier this week, NBC Nightly News ran a smart, concise segment on the case of Jerry and Joe Kane, the two right-wing extremists who killed two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, and then were themselves gunned down in a hail of police bullets.

Mind you, it came a month and a half after the incident itself. And it actually didn't tell you anything readers of Crooks and Liars would have learned back in May.

But it's important and noteworthy when the mainstream media notice these stories, because too often they're buried in the daily deluge of Foxian garbage. (Of course, Fox has not reported on this story at all.)

I was a bit more struck, actually, by the superb and insightful reportage of Trevor Aaronson, Kristina Goetz, and Cindy Wolff (not to mention some unsung city editor) at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, following up the story they covered so well at the time:

Like father, like son: Three families' lives intersect in West Memphis shootout

It looks at the three families destroyed by this tragedy, and all needlessly. I was struck by this passage about Jerry Kane:

"You were always looking over your shoulder to make sure he wasn't there," said Forest Mayor Dave Hankins.

"You never knew what he was going to do. I always thought he was an unstable individual."

Joe Kane went to a church-run preschool with the mayor's son and once invited his classmate to go on a family field trip.

"I wouldn't have trusted him (Jerry Kane) with my dog or my cat if I had one," Hankins said, adding Joe Kane was "coerced in everything he did."

Kane told the police chief more than once he'd shoot him if he came back on his property.

"He'd say, 'The next time you come on my property, you're a dead man,'" Rickabaugh said. "... He thoroughly believed the government had no authority over him."

Though actually, the most striking portrait in the story is that of Joe Kane, the 16-year-old who turned killer at his dad's behest -- how he got twisted, and why:

Yet, at 16, Joe Kane was a boy. And 10 days later, in West Memphis, he acted on his father's words.

This "skinny kid" -- as one witness describes him -- bounds toward Bill Evans with rifle blazing.

He turns the AK-47 on Brandon Paudert and drops the officer with a quick flurry. Then, in a chilling few seconds seen by at least one witness, the young killer stands over Paudert's body as blood gushes onto the roadway.

"For the officer involved, this may be something incredibly routine -- speeding, taillight out," said Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League.

"But to the sovereign citizen, the officer isn't a human being. He's the symbol of this government that has been oppressing him or her.

"Sometimes they just decide this is it, this is my line in the sand, and this is where I'm finally going to stand up for my rights."

As Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress observes:

While the sovereign citizen movement has existed for some time, its popularity appears to be growing in a climate where the anti-government rhetoric of the tea party movement has become commonplace. Former President Clinton, speaking at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in April, “drew parallels” between the anti-government tone that preceded the Oklahoma City Bombing “and the political tumult of today.” Sadly, several recent incidents of right-wing extremist violence — including the West Memphis shootings — suggest he may be right.

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