A cadre of armed men from a militia group called the Rise of the Moors shut down a highway outside of Boston for more than nine hours on Saturday morning after allegedly refusing to comply with police orders and taking off into the woods with guns.
The group says on their website that they’re “Moorish Americans dedicated to educating new Moors and influencing our Elders.” In YouTube videos of the incident, they claimed they were only trying to travel peacefully to their “private land” to camp and “train” on Saturday. CBS Boston reported that they were headed from Rhode Island to Maine.
According to Massachusetts State Police, a trooper saw two cars on the side of the I-95 at about 1:30 a.m. with hazard lights on, attempting to add gas to their tanks.
When the officer stopped to assist, they noticed the men were wearing military gear and had a lot of guns. The trooper asked for driver’s licenses and gun licenses but the men allegedly refused to provide any, and refused to put down their weapons. The trooper called for backup but some of the men fled, police said.
In a livestream video on the group’s YouTube page, a member of the group, dressed in camo gear, said they were traveling with gas tanks to refuel their cars so they could avoid “making any unnecessary stops” that might “alert or alarm the public.”
He claimed they had not violated any laws because they were legally allowed to own guns in the state from which they traveled.
He claimed that they had asked officers to explain what their probable cause was, and a sergeant allegedly said he did not know.
“We do not intend to be hostile, we do not intend to be aggressive,” he said, adding that they are not “anti-police” or “Black-identity extremists.”
“Our nation has a treaty with your government,” the man said, gesturing to another man standing on the highway, holding what looked to be a Moroccan flag. He said they were immune to state laws.
“We’re not anti-government, we’re not anti-police and we’re willing to give them any information they need so that way we can continue with our peaceful journey,” he continued.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says that several organizations and individuals have identified with the Moorish sovereign citizen movement in the U.S. since the 1990s. The movement is associated with the anti-government sovereign citizens movement, and some Moorish sovereigns have come into conflict with government agencies over their refusal to obey laws. They believe that African Americans “constitute an elite class within American society with special rights,” SPLC writes.
“Their self-professed leader wanted very much known their ideology is not anti-government,” State Police Col. Christopher Mason said in a Saturday morning briefing.
A section of I-95 was closed in both directions and a shelter in place order was issued for residents in Wakefield and Reading. Large trucks were brought in to block the highway, and road spikes were deployed.
“We continue to engage the suspects in conversation in an effort to de-escalate the situation on 95 and bring it to a peaceful end,” Massachusetts State Police said in a tweet at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
By Saturday afternoon, following a sweep of the woods and a nine-hour standoff that police called “highly dynamic and evolving,” all 11 members had been taken into custody without injury, and the highway had been reopened.
In a press conference after the incident ended, Mason said the State Police will work with the District Attorney’s Office and “appropriate charges” will be brought against the 11 men.
“You can imagine, 11 armed individuals standing with long guns slung on an interstate highway at two in the morning certainly raises concerns and is not consistent with the firearms laws that we have here in Massachusetts,” he said.
He said the men did not have gun licenses on them. Either way, he said, Massachusetts does not allow unloaded or loaded guns to be carried on an interstate highway.
“I understand that they have a different perspective on that,” he said.
He said he was unclear about what the group’s intent was in traveling on the highway, including whether it was “staged” to draw the attention of police.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said they were told the men were on their way to Maine from Rhode Island for “training” but investigators have not confirmed that.