Madness in the Middle of the Night on I-95

The standoff began at around 2:00 AM on Saturday morning July 3, 2021 on one of the most traveled highways in the US: I-95 in Massachusetts just north of Boston. A group of 11, including one juvenile, armed with AR-15s and other rifles and guns, stopped in the breakdown lane of the northbound section of the highway to refuel their cars in order to avoid having to refuel at a gas station and perhaps raise suspicion. They were dressed in military garb, and some members of the group withdrew to woods bordering the highway when a Massachusetts state trooper stopped to determine why the cars were stopped and offer assistance (“Massachusetts I-95 standoff was with Rise of the Moors militia, police say,” Guardian, July 4, 2021).

A standoff soon took place and 10 men (one juvenile was also involved in the standoff) were arrested and held at a local jail. The Rise of the Moors group is known to both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. They are part of the “Moorish Sovereign Ideology” movement that harkens back to the 1970s. SPLC says that the movement “is a collection of independent organizations and individuals that emerged in the 1990s of the antigovernment sovereign citizens’ movement.”

The standoff between police and the group lasted well into the morning. Some members of the group wore body armor and none had licenses to carry weapons in Massachusetts. One member of the group posting on social media said the group was not “antigovernment or anti-police.”

A spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League said that “sovereign citizens are rarely involved in paramilitary activity.” But these men, from three states and heading from Rhode Island to Maine for some kind of training obviously had different intentions. So-called sovereign citizens typically view themselves as entities onto themselves without recognizing the authority of governments at all levels from local to federal.

Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason (A Massachusetts State Police Commander) said of those arrested from the Rise of the Moors group that “I appreciate that perspective… I disagree with that perspective at the end of the day, but I recognize that it’s there,” (“11 Men Charged After Armed Standoff That Shut Down Parts of I-95 For Hours,” WBUR, July 4, 2021).

Col Mason, said “He understood the suspects, who did not have firearms licenses, have a different perspective on the law.” When arraigned, the members of the group were charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and weapons violations.

Calls to the media number of the Massachusetts State Police were not returned. My intention in communicating with the police was to get clarification of Col. Mason’s observation that “I appreciate that perspective…” about the Rise of the Moors members on I-95.

The Rise of the Moors website “describes them as ‘Moorish Americans dedicated to educating new Moors and influencing our Elders.’” Here’s the SPLC’s description of the movement to which the Rise of the Moors seems to adhere to: “… 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” (“What Do We Know About the Armed Group Involved in I-95 Police Standoff?” NBC 10 Boston, July 3, 2021). A security consultant and former Massachusetts State Police trooper, Todd McGhee, said that “despite the group’s claims, they are known to act independent of the law… [and] are anti-government.”

A research fellow cited above at the Anti-Defamation League said that while so-called “sovereign citizens” are not usually involved in paramilitary actions, that fact would make the Rise of the Moors unusual within the “sovereign citizens” movement. Some of the underpinnings of the Rise of the Moors and similar sovereign citizens’ movements in the early 1970s had a white suprematist ideology, but membership now turns that early ideology into an ironic twist (Guardian, July 4, 2021).

More questions than answers emerged from the interaction and arrest of members of the Rise of the Moors group along I-95 in Massachusetts. What did a Massachusetts State Trooper spokesperson mean when he said  “I appreciate that perspective,” speaking of the Rise of the Moors group made up of members from Rhode Island (the apparent base for this group), New York, and Michigan, who were held on $100,000 cash bond in a Massachusetts jail? What are adults and one juvenile doing in the middle of the night dressed for war and carrying military-style weapons and in body armor and military-style uniforms heading for “training” in Maine and refueling their cars so as to avoid detection on a stretch of highly traveled road in a state with strict gun laws? What forces have drawn adults to identify with the kinds of uniforms and weapons generally associated with military units in war zones?

One of the self-identified Rise of the Moors members, identified as the alleged leader of the group, is former US Marine Jamal Talib Abdullah Bey (“Father of ‘Rise of the Moors’ Leader Speaks Out After Police Standoff,” NBC 10, Boston, July 5, 2021), who after a tour of duty in the Marine Corps, worked for a time on an organic farm in Cranston, Rhode Island.

In a society armed to the hilt with military-style weapons and ideology, such a short time after the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, what has gone so wrong with civil society that madness of this magnitude and nature can play itself out in the middle of the night?

The alleged leader of the Rhode Island Rise of the Moors group was held without bail in a Massachusetts jail, “After the armed standoff with Rise of the Moors: The spectacle is the point,” (Boston Globe, July 7, 2021). The leader of the Black Lives Movement in Rhode Island, where the Rise of the Moors group involved in the standoff is based,  commented that “The Moors are exercising their rights as sovereigns.”

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).