Massachusetts I-95 standoff was with Rise of the Moors militia, police say
Massachusetts state police said 11 people who were arrested following an hours-long armed standoff that partially shut down Interstate 95 on Saturday claimed membership of the group Rise of the Moors, which police said calls itself a militia and follows “sovereign citizens” ideology.
Police said the group claims to adhere to “Moorish Sovereign Ideology”.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups in the US, says the Moorish sovereign citizen movement is a collection of independent organizations and individuals that emerged in the 1990s as an offshoot of the antigovernment sovereign citizens’ movement.
People in the movement believe individual citizens hold sovereignty over, and are independent of, federal and state governments.
One of the people arrested in Massachusetts was a male juvenile and two others refused to give their names, police said. Those arrested were charged with offenses including unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition and the use of body armor in commission of a crime.
Troopers recovered three AR-15 rifles, two pistols, a bolt-action rifle, a shotgun and a short-barrel rifle.
The standoff began early on Saturday when a trooper stopped to offer assistance to vehicles on the side of the highway in the town of Wakefield. Police later said the group was refueling.
The trooper called for backup and most of the group went into nearby woods until they surrendered to a police tactical team just after 10am. The standoff closed I-95 during the busy holiday weekend and some residents were told to shelter in place.
The group told police they traveling from Rhode Island to Maine for “training”. None of the men, who were dressed in military fatigues and body armor, had a license to carry firearms in Massachusetts.
During the standoff, one member of the group said on a social media account for the Rise of the Moors that they were not antigovernment or anti-police. The website for the group says they are “Moorish Americans dedicated to educating new Moors and influencing our Elders”.
Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, said “sovereign citizens” are rarely involved in paramilitary activity.
“This particular group, Rise of the Moors, is actually interested in that so that makes them unusual for groups within this movement,” Pitcavage said.
Some pioneers of the sovereign citizen movement in the 1970s were white supremacists. The vast majority of Moorish sovereign citizens are African American, Pitcavage said.
“I find it very ironic … that the Moorish sovereign citizen movement is so large and active, they actually repeat many theories that were actually cooked up, again many years ago, by white supremacists,” he said.
Police said the adults arrested on Saturday were from Rhode Island, New York and Michigan and would be held at the Billerica House of Correction on $100,000 cash bail. They are due in court later this week. It could not immediately be determined if the suspects had lawyers.