By MICHELLE WILLIAMS
WAKEFIELD — Several members of Rise of the Moors, the group involved an hours-long armed standoff with Massachusetts State Police that shut down Route 128 over Fourth of July weekend, filed a lawsuit seeking a change in court venue and $70 million in damages.
The men were on the northbound side of the highway between the Hopkins Street bridge and the North Avenue exit when a state trooper came across the group refueling their vehicles around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 3.
The occupants of the vehicle were dressed in military-style tactical gear. Some had long rifles, some pistols and “some had a combination of both,” Massachusetts State Police Colonel Christopher Mason said.
The trooper asked members of the group to produce licenses for the firearms and members of the group indicated they weren’t licensed or didn’t have copies of licenses on them.
The trooper requested backup. An hours-long standoff followed between the men — some of whom remained by their vehicles, others who went into a nearby wooded area behind the Wakefield Subaru dealership — that shut down both sides of the interstate and led police to issue a warning for nearby residents.
The situation was resolved “through negotiation and tactical maneuvers,” Mason said of nine members — including one minor — being taken into custody.
The men were all charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, eight counts; unlawful possession of ammunition; use of body armor in the commission of a crime; possession of a high capacity magazine; improper storage of firearms in a vehicle; and conspiracy to commit a crime.
In addition to the other charges, four were charged with furnishing a false name to police.
Jamhal Tavon Sanders Latimer, also known as Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey, is among the members who are named in the lawsuit. The self-identified leader of the group spoke on their behalf during livestreamed videos posted to social media during the standoff.
The federal lawsuit alleges the members were subjected to “defamation, discrimination of national origin and deprivation of their rights under the color of law” and seek $70 million in damages.
The lawsuit claims the members are not citizens of the United States and the Massachusetts court where they were arraigned does not have jurisdiction. The lawsuit seeks the case to be “litigated in international court, consular court, or federal court with consul’s (sic) present.”
Rise of the Moors is based in Rhode Island, where several members arrested reside. Other listed addresses include New York and one member from Michigan.
This argument was made by members during their arraignments, including multiple members who declined to provide their names to authorities.
The unidentified defendant — known during his arraignment as John Doe 2 — said during his arraignment he “waived no rights” and reserved “all rights” even as he said he wanted to refuse the assistance of a public defender — which Judge Emily Karstetter took to mean he was waiving his constitutional right to an attorney.
Karstetter was named in the lawsuit, along with multiple members of the Massachusetts State Police. Several media outlets were named in the lawsuit, including: CBS News, NBCUniversal and Viacom.
Rise of the Moors is a group of individuals who identify as Moorish Americans.
“The Moorish sovereign citizen movement is a collection of independent organizations and lone individuals that emerged in the early 1990s as an offshoot of the anti-government sovereign citizens movement, which believes that individual citizens hold sovereignty over, and are independent of, the authority of federal and state governments,” the Southern Poverty Law Center says of the movement. “Moorish sovereigns espouse an interpretation of sovereign doctrine that African Americans constitute an elite class within American society with special rights and privileges that convey on them a sovereign immunity placing them beyond federal and state authority.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center says Moorish Sovereign Citizens have come into conflict with federal and state authorities over their refusal to obey laws and government regulations. “Recently, Moorish sovereign citizens have engaged in violent confrontations with law enforcement. They have also been known to retaliate against government authorities through financial means — a process called ‘paper terrorism.’”
The Rise of the Moors filed multiple lawsuits against Providence Police in 2019 claiming their right to bear arms and right to assemble were violated.
They accused police of interrupting a lecture the organization was hosting, which was being livestreamed. According to the lawsuit, Bay was teaching the class while armed with a Glock 22 and a semi-automatic weapon, the Providence Journal reported in 2019.
During the recorded lecture, he read from the Koran and spoke of the group’s right to bear arms. “We’re teaching our people not to be criminals,” Bey said.
The group was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2020 as an anti-government group. It is not considered a hate group.
Although there are similar groups across the country, Rise of the Moors are specific to New England.
The group disputed that they are “anti-government” both in recorded statements and conversations with police.
“We’re not anti-government, we’re not anti-police, we’re not sovereign citizens, we’re not Black-identity extremists,” Bey said during a livestreamed video posted to YouTube during the standoff.
The group was traveling from Rhode Island to Maine to train on “private land,” the group told police. In one of the videos recorded during the standoff with police, Bey said the vehicles contain camping equipment.
A significant cache of weapons and ammunition as well as ballistic armor, binoculars and night vision goggles were found in their vehicles, court records show.
A gun owner is allowed to transport weapons under specific conditions. For a loaded or unloaded handgun, it may be on a person or in a vehicle if under “direct control.”
Large-capacity rifles and shotguns must be transported unloaded and in a locked case, locked trunk or other secure container, according to state regulations.
State law considers a large-capacity firearm to be any of the following: semi-automatic handgun or rifle that is capable of accepting more than ten rounds, a semi-automatic shotgun capable of accepting more than five shotgun shells or an assault weapon.
A rifle with a fixed tubular magazine designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber ammunition is not classified as a large-capacity firearm.
A person can carry a loaded or unloaded rifle or shotgun upon or across a public way if they are engaged in hunting and hold a valid hunting license.
Non-residents do not need a firearms license to transport their firearms in or through the commonwealth, provided the firearms are unloaded and enclosed in a case while traveling.
“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 we have in Massachusetts,” Mason said.