Wakefield, MA – Police arrested 11 members of a paramilitary group on Saturday after an hours-long standoff that shut down part of Interstate 95.
The incident began at about 1:30 a.m. on July 3 when state police troopers observed two vehicles on the side of the road that appeared to be out of gas, NPR reported.
Massachusetts State Police Colonel Christopher Mason told reporters afterward that when the troopers stopped, they noticed some of the people standing by the vehicles were wearing “military-style” gear and carrying weapons.
“You can imagine 11 armed individuals standing with long guns slung on an interstate highway at 2 in the morning certainly raises concerns and is not consistent with the firearms laws that we have in Massachusetts,” Col. Mason said.
Troopers requested backup after the men refused to put down their weapons and said they “don’t recognize our laws,” NPR reported.
Police said some of the men fled into the woods but the apparent leaders of the group stayed behind and livestreamed during the standoff that shut down a major roadway on a holiday weekend.
“I reassured them that we are not sovereign citizens,” a man identified as Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey said in a Facebook live video. “I reassured them that we are not black identity extremists. I reassured them that we are not anti-police. I reassured them that we are not anti-government. I reassured them that these men here will not be pointing guns at them. I reassured them that we are trying to come to a peaceful resolution.”
Despite those claims, the live video was being streamed on the Instagram account for the Moorish Constitutional Convention Committee. Moorish sovereign citizens believe that black “Moors” were America’s original inhabitants, and are entitled to self-governing status. They do not recognize the authority of the state or federal government.
“We’re going to our private land to train, which is our Second Amendment right,” Bey said.
“I’ve expressed to you multiple times we are not anti-government.”
An armed uniformed man speaking with MSP negotiators in the middle of a standoff on 95 as it’s being live streamed on an IG account for the Moorish Constitutional Convention Committee. @wbz https://t.co/swiYDUFnIT pic.twitter.com/2oKJqrGg5G
— Anaridis Rodriguez (@Anaridis) July 3, 2021
The group claimed their vehicles contained camping equipment, NPR reported.
They said they were just traveling through the area and weren’t subject to the laws of Massachusetts.
Bey said in one of his videos that the men were carrying fuel for their vehicles so they wouldn’t have to get off the interstate during their trip.
But police said the men didn’t have firearms licenses for the weapons they were carrying in Massachusetts, NPR reported.
Col. Mason said during a press briefing on Saturday morning that state police “don’t have any knowledge about this particular specific group” but that “it is not unusual for us to encounter people that have sovereign citizen ideologies — I’m not saying that this group does — but we have had those encounters before in the past.”
“We train to those encounters,” the colonel said. “We very much understand the philosophy that underlies that mindset. And we train our officers, actually, at the academy, on these interactions and how to de-escalate those situations, and how to engage with people that have that philosophy and mindset and resolve those situations in a peaceful manner.”
Law enforcement brought in tactical vehicles and negotiators who eventually brought the standoff to a close, NPR reported.
The state police said two of the men who were part of the group were arrested in their vehicle in Wakefield early on Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported.
Two suspects have been arrested by members of @NEMLEC on North Ave, Wakefield. MSP has taken custody of and transported them to one of our barracks. The situation is ongoing w/remaining members of the group. We continue to work to resolve the situation peacefully. https://t.co/1bZWM1vYKS
— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) July 3, 2021
Police said the other nine members of the group surrendered at about 10:30 a.m. and were taken into custody.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said all 11 suspects were expected to appear in court in Woburn in Middlesex County on Tuesday, NPR reported.
The website associated with the group – the Rise of the Moors – identified Bey as leader of the “Rhode Island State Republic and Providence Plantations.”
Bey served in the U.S. military for four years and then began studying “Moorish Science,” according to the website.
“The record show that the Moors are the organic or original sovereigns of this land — America,” the site’s FAQ read. “When we declare our nationality as Moorish Americans we are taking back the position as the aboriginal people of the land, to which the sovereign power is vested in.”
The group has been identified as an extremist organization by more than one watchdog group, NPR reported.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has characterized the Moorish sovereign citizens as an offshoot from the larger antigovernment sovereign citizen movement.
“The Moorish Sovereign movement is a rapidly growing group of people who believe that they belong to a sovereign nation that has a treaty with the US but otherwise operates outside of the federal and state laws,” JJ MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, tweeted.
“They rely on an alternative history that borrows from Moorish Science Temple, Black Hebrew Israelism, Nation of Islam, UFO theories, phony Native American tribes, and the pseudo-legal arguments crafted by white supremacist ‘patriot’ groups in the 1970s,” MacNab explained.