The men, who wore military-style gear and claimed to be “foreign nationals,” were part of an hourslong standoff with police officers.
July 3, 2021
Eleven men were taken into custody on Saturday after a lengthy roadside standoff between police officers in Massachusetts and a group of heavily armed men in tactical gear who claimed to be part of a group called Rise of the Moors.
Dozens of police officers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire responded to the standoff, which shut down part of a highway for several hours and prompted the authorities to order people in surrounding communities to shelter in place.
The men, who appeared to be livestreaming the standoff on YouTube, eventually surrendered to the police without any shots being fired, the authorities said. There were no injuries, although three of the men in the group were hospitalized with what the police described as pre-existing conditions that had nothing to do with the standoff.
“I attribute the successful resolution of this to both patience, professionalism and partnership,” Col. Christopher Mason of the Massachusetts State Police said. “At the end of the day, we have the desired outcome, which is a safe resolution.”
The standoff, according to the State Police, began at about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday when a state trooper stopped to check on two vehicles that had pulled over in the emergency breakdown lane of Interstate 95 in Wakefield, about 15 miles north of Boston. The men were refilling their gas tanks with their own fuel, and they appeared to be wearing military tactical gear and carrying rifles and other guns. Colonel Mason said the men had said they were making their way from Rhode Island to Maine for “training.”
When the men failed to provide identification and firearm licenses, as requested, the trooper asked for backup, Colonel Mason said.
“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 here in Massachusetts,” Colonel Mason said. “I understand that they have a different perspective on that. I appreciate that perspective. I disagree with that perspective.”
First, two armed men were taken into custody, Colonel Mason said, and negotiators spent hours talking to other members of the group, some of whom were in the woods by the highway and some who were in their vehicles.
A shelter-in-place order was set for residents of Wakefield and Reading and part of Interstate 95 was closed to traffic.
By 10:15 a.m., the police had arrested the nine remaining members of the group. All of them surrendered without incident, Colonel Mason said, and the police lifted the shelter-in-place orders and reopened the highway.
The State Police said on Saturday night that troopers had recovered eight firearms: three AR-15 rifles, two pistols, a bolt-action rifle, a shotgun and a short-barrel rifle.
None of the men had a license to carry firearms, and they were charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, use of body armor in the commission of a crime, possession of a high-capacity magazine and conspiracy to commit a crime, among other charges, according to the State Police.
The State Police said the men had referred to themselves “as a militia” and had stated that they “adhere to ‘Moorish Sovereign Ideology.’”
The State Police released the names of all but three of the men. One was 17 years old, and two refused to identify themselves, according to the State Police.
Colonel Mason said the men had said they were part of a group called Rise of the Moors. The group says on its website that it seeks “equal justice under our own law, and not under the United States government, as we are not citizens of the United States.”
“Since we are not citizens of the United States, we owe no tax obligations to the government of the United States,” the website states.
They describe themselves as “Moorish Americans dedicated to educating new Moors and influencing our Elders,” according to the website.
Colonel Mason said the group’s “self-professed leader wanted very much known their ideology is not anti-government.”
“Our investigation will provide us more insight into what their motivation, what their ideology is,” he said.
“We are not anti-government,” a man said early Saturday morning on a livestream on the group’s YouTube channel.
The man, who was wearing military-style gear, went on to explain that the group had pulled over to fuel up with gas cans to avoid “making any unnecessary stops” while carrying firearms. The man also said the group was traveling to its “private land.”
“We do not intend to be hostile, we do not intend to be aggressive,” he added later. “We are not anti-government, we are not anti-police, we are not sovereign citizens and we are not Black identity extremists.”
“We are foreign nationals,” another member of the group shouted from the background.
Rise of the Moors appears to be based in Pawtucket, R.I., according to the group’s website. The group did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The Pawtucket police “are aware” of the group and have had “various interactions” with it, according to Emily Rizzo, a spokeswoman for the Pawtucket mayor’s office, who said she could not immediately provide more details.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Moorish sovereign citizen movement is an extremist ideology that emerged in the early 1990s. It is an offshoot of the antigovernment sovereign citizens movement, which believes that individual citizens hold sovereignty over, and are independent of, the authority of federal and state governments. Groups tend to be small, consisting of a couple of dozen followers, according to the center’s website.
It is unclear what affiliation Rise of the Moors may have, if any, with that movement.
According to a 2016 report by the Anti-Defamation League, the Moorish sovereign citizen movement began when people melded sovereign citizen beliefs with some of the beliefs of the Moorish Science Temple, a religious sect dating to 1913.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the movement grew and absorbed other Black sovereign groups that had begun independently, according to the A.D.L.
The report said that Moorish sovereign citizens had engaged in the same criminal activities as “traditional” sovereign citizens groups, including crimes of violence, scams, frauds and intimidation of public officials.