The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

What’s in a Name? For Donna Lee Wray©, Millions

By Mark Potok on June 3, 2010 - 10:49 am, Posted in Extremist Crime, Sovereign Citizens

Many people, seeing their immediate family members killed after allegedly murdering two police officers, might retreat into pained silence. Some might even find a way to express their condolences to the officers’ loved ones.

Not Donna Lee Wray.

On the contrary, the 50-year-old Floridian who describes herself as the common-law wife of Jerry Kane has spent much of the time since Kane and his son Joseph apparently gunned down two West Memphis, Ark., officers on May 20 issuing angry threats, hurling epithets at reporters, accusing police of a cover-up, and trying to charge millions of dollars for use of her “copyrighted” name. The Kanes were killed by police in a gunfight some 90 minutes after the double murder, but apparently managed to badly wound two more officers before being shot themselves.

Last week, after I was quoted in some press accounts describing Jerry Kane as an enthusiast of the tax- and law-defying “sovereign citizens” movement, Wray wrote me a furious E-mail saying that I had “profiled” her (not Kane or his 16-year-old son) and that this was a “Felony act.” Moreover, she said, neither she nor the Kanes were so-called sovereign citizens, and that “a child could comprehend” that “there is no such thing as a sovereign citizen.” She said I “better have excellent insurance” and threw in a few sophomoric insults for good measure.

In fact, the sovereign citizens movement is a well-established part of the American radical right. Adherents typically believe that they are not bound by government laws and are not liable for taxes. Many subscribe to so-called “redemption” theories — the completely bogus idea that sovereign citizens can escape their debts in many circumstances. Jerry Kane spent the last two years giving seminars that hawked the idea that many people do not have to repay mortgage loans. And, according to The [Memphis] Commercial Appeal, Kane declared himself a sovereign man not bound by the government’s laws in a 12-page, April 8, 2003, document filed in an Ohio court.

In her E-mail, in fact, Wray repeatedly referenced classic sovereign citizens language and ideas — including the notion that “common law” is the real law of the land and that people (sovereign citizens, that is) can “copyright” their name. “Mark Potok,” she wrote, “has violated my common law copyright notice for use of my name and my Claim of Intent and Fee Schedule properly recorded and noticed is in effect, that requires any entity that uses my name without my express written permission must pay me a fee of $1,000,000.00. For each use.”

Two days later, Wray was at it again, issuing a meandering press release that accused police of “massacr[ing]” the Kanes, “obliterat[ing] evidence,” and engaging in a “COVERUP.” The allegation that the Kanes were extremists is “ridiculous,” and they were not antigovernment, she said. “They were all for government,” Wray wrote. “Real Government. I have evidence and proof that the West Memphis Police Department is a private company … clearly a private for profit business.”

“Jerry,” his common-law widow added, “was right all along.”

Then, after describing reporters as “nasty vultures,” she got back to the cash. “I am giving Public notice right now that [two reporters and their networks] are henceforth banned and do not have my consent to print anything about me or my family. Period. Unless they agree to pay $5,000,000 for each article printed.”

  • John Q. Public

    Donna Lee Wray may indeed be in need of some mental health counseling. I’m certain, however, that Donna Lee Wray is in far clearer and more desperate need of some legal advice — because Donna Lee Wray apparently does not understand how copyright works.

    A phrase as short as a name — even the three-part “Donna Lee Wray” — is virtually never copyrightable. Perhaps Donna Lee Wray should consider attempting to trademark the name Donna Lee Wray instead. Even if trademarked, however, Donna Lee Wray’s name could still be freely used by journalists or anyone else to refer to Donna Lee Wray, just like companies with trademarked names, brands or properties such as Viacom, Fisher-Price or Superman are freely referred to by journalists and others who do not own those trademarked names. Trademark infringement only protects the trademark owner against another person or group from using the name they trademarked for a similar business or product with the intent or effect of fooling consumers into believing that the fake is affiliated with the trademark holder; thus, Donna Lee Wray would be able to sue anyone using the name Donna Lee Wray with the intention of impersonating the Donna Lee Wray who thinks no one can refer to her by her name. Even if this Donna Lee Wray were to trademark the name Donna Lee Wray, however, she would still lose any attempted legal action against other persons who were named Donna Lee Wray before this Donna Lee Wray came (briefly) to public attention, because those Donna Lee Wrays, if any, would retain the right to the names they coincidentally shared with this Donna Lee Wray.

    I would offer my condolences to Donna Lee Wray on the deaths of her loved ones, but I fear that correspondence addressed to “Donna Lee Wray” might be responded to with a bill, while correspondence lacking a name would likely not reach her at all.

    Of course, if Donna Lee Wray should happen to see this comment, she might well attempt to bill me for use of her “copyrighted” name also. Good luck collecting that twenty — oops, twenty-one — million dollars from me, Donna Lee Wray…

  • Jan

    did a google search of Donna Lee Wray. she has taken to posting anywhere and everywhere dozens of News Forums taking/promoting her conspiracy message to the extreme
    the volume of posting is astounding. the messages are disturbing.

    its a shame if shes not getting the psychological counseling she so desperately needs. instead of getting help shes lashing out at the authorities,the police and news reporters.
    comparing the plight of Jerry Kane and Son to Ruby Ridge and Waco

    I live in Clearwater Fla..where Donne Lee lives.and where the Kane’s took up residence for a few months, Donna lee is fairly well known she ran a salon,and like alot residents at one point was a Scientologist,for many years I know her family still practice the religion.

    All Scientologist that I know are anti-psychiatry to the extreme ,even those that leave the church hold onto those some cases
    I doubt She will get the psychiatric care she needs.

  • Bette Hill

    I am a regular member of SPLC but this story prompted me to make an additional donation. I hope many others will do the same. Thanks SPLC for all your hard work.

  • Thomas

    The rantings of Donna Wray and her so-called common law deceased husband Jerry Kane only drive home a lesson to law enforcement that crazy people are mixed with average everyday dangerous criminals and will kill over a minor traffic offense. Looks can be deceiving, Jerry Kane didn’t look particurlarly menacing, and the 16 year old Joe Kane certainly didn’t have the appearance of a brain washed time bomb set to go off on a killing spree. Right wing or Left wing tags should not even be used because when starting from the same place, right and left turns circle back to the same place, CRAZY.

  • Carter

    I have often wondered where a great deal of this pathos comes from. That is until I read: Vigilantes of Christendom (Hoskins) ISBN 1-881867-05-6, “The History of the Phineas Priesthood”.
    It’s tough to find a collection of pathological tripe in one place but ” Vigilantes of Christendom” does a better job than many.
    This rambling collection of diatribes on the “whys” & “hows” of injustices done to whites & the “historical” elements therein is eye opening. The book gives some insight into how some individuals can distort the world around them.
    There is a great deal to be learned from this distortion, especially if adopted by a group or collective.
    It is essentially a prescription for alienation at the least and murder if not addressed.

  • LotusGeek

    Mitch, you’re a clever man ;) Took me a minute to “interpret” your magic word – and it is pretty clever.

    Well played. sir. Well played.

  • Mason Green

    Or perhaps we could get her to say MY name, and then she would be required to pay ME millions of dollars…

  • Mitch Beales

    Perhaps we can get her to say yarweelannod thus returning her to the fifth dimension?

  • Zeno

    The poor woman is understandably distraught. She’s also a nutcase, which can’ t help. I feel sorry for Donna Lee Wray. (Do I now owe her $5,000,000?)