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Letter from the Editor

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"Who were the West Memphis cop-killers?"

I wrote a post with that headline on my blog last week, in the wake of the shootout in West Memphis between Jerry and Joseph Kane and Arkansas law-enforcement agencies.

I meant it in the sense of "Who are these guys?" I'd found the elder Kane's website, which promoted his "mortgage fraud" consultancy and linked to various anti-government websites. I also found a link to Glenn Beck's "9/12 Project," in which Jerry Kane was a participant.

At that point, all we knew was what the police spokesperson had told us: that a white van had been stopped at an I-40 exit and that two police officers — Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans — had been shot and killed, and a subsequent manhunt had resulted in a shootout at the West Memphis Walmart, in which both Kanes were killed.

Jerry Kane considered himself a "sovereign" citizen, for whom such routine trappings of society as a driver's license were seen as government intrusion. On a web podcast, Jerry Kane spoke of being pulled over in New Mexico and jailed for 72 hours at a "Nazi checkpoint" for not having a license.

Within minutes of posting this information on my blog, defenders of the Kanes checked in, suggesting that the police couldn't be trusted and that the Kanes were probably set up. Several readers pointed out that the Kanes were innocent until proven guilty and that I had jumped the gun by assuming that they were the "cop-killers."

Technically, they were right. I had no proof, only police testimony to the effect that the Kanes — in their white van — were the perps in the killing of two policemen by two men in a white van. I had jumped the gun, so to speak. It was possible, at least theoretically, that there were two white vans, each occupied by men with guns who liked to shoot at police.

But, come on. Really?

Ironies abounded. I would wager that most cops in West Memphis are conservative, God-fearing folks who probably don't think much of liberals or our current president. Now, these same cops were being disparaged by people from the far-right fringe as "crooked" agents of a corrupt government, bent on taking our freedoms.

It's a bizarro world out there right now. (As of press time, Glenn Beck's website still had the link to Jerry Kane's contributions to the 9/12 Project.) These guys weren't "patriots." They were deranged murderers. When do we call a cop-killer by his proper name?

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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