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

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.”

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