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Anti-Government Movement Discovered in Middle Tennessee


By Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter

They call themselves sovereign citizens, and they're part of a growing anti-government movement that rejects state and federal law.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks extremist groups and estimates there are 300,000 sovereigns nationwide, but a NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals the movement is thriving here in middle Tennessee.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is warning police departments across the country about the growing movement. It has produced a video which shows officers how to identify sovereigns.

In May, two men who belonged to the movement, shot and killed two West Memphis police officers after the officers pulled them over for a traffic violation.

"There are people at war with this country who are not international terrorists," said West Memphis Police Chief Robert Paudert.

The chief's son was one of the officers killed by sovereigns that day.

"My men didn't realize who or what they were dealing with," said Paudert.

The officers pulled over Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son. They were traveling across the country giving seminars about how to circumvent the legal system.

In a seminar captured on the Internet, Kane delivered this ominous message, "I don't want to have to kill anybody, but if they keep messing with me that's what is going to have to come out. That's what it will come down to," Kane said.

As officers questioned Kane, his son pulled out a rifle and opened fire.

"We, as law enforcement officers, need to realize this very real threat so we can protect ourselves," Chief Paudert said in the video going to police departments.

He warns officers that because sovereigns see themselves as above the law, they feel no need to have a license plate or drivers license.

The sovereign movement is fueled by anger at the government and the downturn in the economy.

Retired federal agent James Cavanaugh spent his career following the rise of anti-government groups like sovereigns.

"They go through this sort of crackpot belief system that they can file any sort of pseudo legal documents that relieves them of any burden of civilization," Cavanaugh said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed Cavanaugh recently filed documents we found in courthouses and register of deeds offices here in middle Tennessee.

"This is classic sovereign stuff," Cavanaugh said.

Sovereigns often add bizarre punctuation to their names and file paperwork which they believe gives them access to secret government accounts that can pay off debt.

They believe that by filing the right paperwork they can avoid foreclosure and eliminate debt.

Inside The Life Of A Sovereign Citizen 

"When you read it, it's like this is as crazy as a run over dog," Cavanaugh said.

When Metro police pulled over Nashville businessman Dennis Ammerman in 2008, he claimed he was not a U.S. citizen and did not need a driver's license.

This year, Ammerman forged a money order and stole nearly $10,000 from SunTrust Bank.

He believed the money came from his secret government account.

In court, he filed a document listing his own jury, which declared him innocent.

"They have their own supreme court, their own grand jury. They just make it up, and they'll get another 12 lunatics, and say this is their court," Cavanaugh said.

Last year, federal agents raided the Nashville home of Karen Liane Miller.

Miller prepared tax returns for other sovereigns and sent the IRS notice that she was a "living woman, free sovereign, secured party."

After the raid, she tried to fine the IRS more than a billion dollars.

She was later convicted of filing $8 million in fraudulent tax returns.

"Many of them get into tax evasion and foreclosure fraud," Cavanaugh said.

But most of the paperwork we discovered had to do with foreclosures.

Several banks have filed lawsuits against Williamson County resident Mark Manuel.

One bank claimed Manuel filed "frivolous documents" to stall foreclosures saying it "appears to be a pattern in the middle Tennessee area."

We found a sign on the door of Williamson County home saying "No Trespassing by order of the Sovereign Mark Manuel".

The woman who answered the door didn't have much to say.

"He doesn't live here and I'm not going to give you his address," she said.

Manuel is no stranger to courts.

He's been sued by members of his former church for stealing their money in a Ponzi scheme, an allegation he's denied.

Homeowners facing foreclosure have paid Manuel to file bizarre paperwork on their behalf. He's filed odd deeds and even tried to transfer homes to an unregistered non-profit in California called the Ambassador Redemption Kingdom.

Banks say it's a scam.

"All of a sudden here comes someone with the solution, why I don't have to pay anything," Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh says many sovereigns are just desperate. But in a worst case scenario, at their extremes, sovereigns can be dangerous. Hours after the Kanes killed the officers in West Memphis, they died in a dramatic shootout with police.


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