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I-95 Partially Closed For Hours After Police Standoff With Armed Men

Traffic on Interstate 95 was diverted for hours after a group of armed men fled from police near Wakefield, Mass. on Saturday. Massachusetts state police say 11 suspects have been taken into custody.
Traffic on Interstate 95 was diverted for hours after a group of armed men fled from police near Wakefield, Mass. on Saturday. Massachusetts state police say 11 suspects have been taken into custody.

Eleven people were taken into custody Saturday after an hours-long standoff with police early Saturday outside Boston.

While police engaged in negotiation, members of the group engaged the public on social media, saying their group was called "Rise of the Moors."

The heavily armed men were said to be driving from Rhode Island to Maine for "training."

The incident started around 1:30 a.m., when state police noticed two cars stopped at the side of I-95 near Wakefield, Mass., apparently out of fuel. As troopers stopped to assist, they noticed that some individuals near the cars had "military-style" gear, and were carrying long guns and pistols, Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason told reporters.

"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," Mason said.

Police requested backup, and thus began a standoff that lasted several hours. The men refused to lower their weapons, saying that they "don't recognize our laws," police said. Some of the armed men fled into a nearby wooded area, police said, and a portion of I-95 was closed for several hours.

The standoff was broadcast on social media

Around 4 a.m., a man whom the Boston Globe identified as Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey said he was broadcasting live from I-95 and said that he told police they had nothing to fear.

"I reassured them that we are not sovereign citizens," a man who appeared to be Bey said in a live-streamed 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."

"We're going to our private land to train, which is our Second Amendment right," he said, showing a vehicle he said contained camping equipment.

As police tactical teams brought in armored vehicles to surround the area, and negotiators interacted with the men, they ultimately surrendered. Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan told reporters the suspects were expected to appear in court on Tuesday morning.

State police "don't have any knowledge about this particular specific group" but as state police "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," Mason said at a Saturday morning press briefing.

"We train to those encounters," Mason continued. "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."

The group calls itself "Rise of the Moors"

The same man appearing to be Bey said in a later video: "They keep portraying us as being anti-government, but we're not anti-government at all."

The group's website lists Bey as a leader of the "Rhode Island State Republic and Providence Plantations." According to the site, Bey served in the military for four years, some or all of that time in the Marines, after which he began studying "Moorish Science."

That website, "Rise of the Moors," explains that Moors are not "sovereign citizens" because "sovereignty does not stand alone," but can rather be considered synonymous with "nationality."

"The record show that the Moors are the organic or original sovereigns of this land — America," the FAQ says. "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."

Bey's group may be associated with the Moorish sovereign citizen movement, which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as an offshoot of the antigovernment sovereign citizens movement. Moorish sovereigns "have come into conflict with federal and state authorities over their refusal to obey laws and government regulations," SPLC writes.

"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, explained on Twitter.

"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 said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").