In the early hours of July 3, 2021, residents of Wakefield and Reading, Massachusetts, were awoken by a reverse 911 call ordering them to shelter in place. A heavily armed group calling itself “Rise of the Moors” had encountered police earlier and fled into the nearby woods. As part of the hunt, police shut down the region’s central artery for commuters and traffic, Interstate 95.
After a standoff lasting hours, 11 members of the Rise of the Moors militia were arrested, and their cases are now pending in local courts.
Led by a former Marine, Rise of the Moors is a group that subscribes to the “sovereign citizen” ideology. Like most sovereign citizen groups, the Moors do not recognize the authority of state and US courts and believe they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the government.
In short, they believe laws don’t apply to them.
The sovereign citizen movement is larger in Western states. There, members of the movement are nearly always white, and their ideology often includes white-supremacy undertones or apocalyptic Christian theology.
But the Moors tie their sovereign beliefs directly to Black and Muslim identity. Members claim to trace their roots to native inhabitants of North America who predated the arrival of European immigrants, and to Moroccan ancestry, and embrace Muslim traditions and structure in their religious-themed organizations.
In the Massachusetts armed standoff, part of the group bailed out into the woods when the troopers arrived. As police set up a perimeter on the highway, the group’s leader, Jamhal Latimer, who also goes by the title Talib Abdullah Bey, livestreamed the event, claiming to have a “treaty” with US governments.
Latimer, according to news reports, was a Marine from 2010 to 2014. He claims in the video below to have been “elected” as the “grand sheikh” of Rhode Island.
Standing on the side of the highway in tactical gear, with rifles slung and handguns holstered, the Moors waved a Moroccan flag, which they claim as their own. The group takes its name from supposed Moroccan ties, and they claim immunity to US laws under 18th-century treaties with Morocco. Though it’s unclear which treaty backs their claims, the 1786 Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship was an agreement between the early US and Morocco and was the first international agreement to recognize the US as its own nation, as well as dealing with general rules of maritime law.
The group employs many of the tactics that are common to other sovereign groups: They refuse to pay taxes, reject insurance, and do not register vehicles.
One well-documented grift the group practices is squatting. Moors have occupied recently sold homes, changing the locks before a new owner moves in. The group then engages in paper terrorism by drafting legal documents and false liens claiming the group inherited the property by virtue of indigenous ancestry.
Moorish sovereigns use the suffixes “Bey” or “El” with their legal names to signify their new Moorish identities. The Moors believe this small change severs their identities from their “Straw Men.” Each believes that he represents a “human you” rather than a fictitious “paper you” created by the government. The paper person consists of birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and other legitimate forms of identification. The Moors, speaking in terms of being individuals of flesh and blood, believe that adding “Bey” or “El” to a name strips away any trappings of the “paper” person with the previous name.
The Moors have also been known to fight traffic citations by claiming, “I am not driving, I am traveling,” with only acts of “commerce” being subject to US traffic laws.
While their interpretations of law are sometimes amusing, Moorish groups have become increasingly violent over the last five years. In 2016, a member of the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu’ur Nation, a group associated with the Moorish Science Temple, ambushed and killed three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2017, Everett Glenn Miller, a Moorish sovereign citizen, killed two Kissimmee, Florida, police officers on a routine patrol. Prior to the killings, Miller frequently posted on social media with the hashtag #makeamerickkamooragain.