'Rise of the Moors' mystery: Separatist group stays quiet on Maine training plans

When a Massachusetts state trooper saw two cars with their hazard lights flashing in the emergency lane of Interstate 95 at 2 a.m., the natural response was to go and offer help.

What should have been a routine incident proved to be anything but.

The motorists in distress were wearing military fatigues and carrying an array of unregistered firearms, including three AR-15 rifles.

Even their vehicles, a 2018 Ford Transit and 2006 Honda Ridgeline pickup truck, were unregistered.

What followed was a surreal nine-hour standoff 15 miles north of Boston between police and the group of 10 men and one teenager, who were all members of an organization called the Rise of the Moors. Law enforcement revealed earlier this week that they incapacitated the group using a high-pitched sonic weapon.

They told the police that they were from Rhode Island and were en-route to an undisclosed destination in Maine for what they described as military training.

Exactly where they were going remains a mystery. But a Facebook posting does at least give a hint of what they were doing, if not why.

It shows three people trudging through woodland at an undisclosed location, two of whom appear to be in army fatigues. One is clutching what appears to be an assault rifle and another a handgun.

The group's refusal to license either their weapons or vehicles was "justified" by the group's philosophy: a complicated mish-mash of libertarianism and religious separatism.

"They essentially have taken ideas from two separate ideologies," Rachel Goldwasser of the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

"There is the Moorish religion and the Sovereign Citizen movement. They have combined elements of both of them.

"Sovereign Citizens are a complicated beast. What is foundationally true for all Sovereign Citizenships is they have renounced the citizenship where they were born and or naturalized."

In its most benign manifestation, Sovereign Citizen groups refuse to cooperate with the authorities.

Some even issue driving licenses and number plates. But there have been outbreaks of violence by Sovereign Citizens who feel that direct action is needed to protect their "rights."

The I-95 group's take on the philosophy rests on two planks. The first is that they are indigenous to a patch of land in Rhode Island.

The second is an assertion that their rights as Moors are protected by the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship that was signed in January 1787.

"There are catalysts which will make a Sovereign Citizen violent," Goldwasser added.

"It is a good sign they did not react violently. It can be something as minor as a traffic stop which sets them off," she said.

A study by the University of North Carolina a few years ago had scathing words about the Sovereign Citizen movement.

"At their most harmless, sovereign citizens are cranks who talk what seems like gibberish to cops and magistrates and judges and then become law-abiding when they face real legal trouble," it read. "At a different level, they may severely burden the courts and other government offices with the filing of hundreds and hundreds of pages of nonsensical documents."

That seems to have been the template followed by the Rise of the Moors in Massachusetts when they appeared before Malden District Court. Many were wearing Moroccan-style fezzes.

They refused to cooperate with court-appointed lawyers, with two of the group even refusing to give their names.

Quinn Cumberlander, 40, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, insisted that he was a foreign national and therefore could not face criminal charges.

Nevertheless, he invoked his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Then, there were the actions of Lesley Malave, who preferred to be known by his Moorish name of Moreeno Bey.

Malave, who was not involved in the Wakefield standoff, tied the court up in knots when he filed a complaint after his partner was pulled over for speeding in November 2019.

Citing the 1787 treaty, he accused the police of surrounding the car like "a pack of hyenas."

He presented his Moorish identification cards and signed and dated legal documents using the Moorish calendar — as well as the Gregorian one.

Leonard Kesten, the lawyer representing the police, remembers his encounter with the Rise of the Moors well.

"I had never heard of them. If you represent towns, cities, and police, you get some interesting cases," he said.

"They were relying on the Constitution while saying they are not subject to our laws, which seems to be problematic.

"Then, there was the problem about the document filing fee."

Instead of meeting the $400 demanded by the court, Malave offered a silver coin that he said was worth $913.

"He offered the coin, and the judge didn't want any part of it. He just went away, and it never went any further," he recalled.

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"I am a child of the '70s. I can recognize people have a different view, and I find them interesting.

"He was not armed, and it's one thing to have a different view.

"It's another having AR-15s. It gives you food for thought," Kesten said.

Original Location: 'Rise of the Moors' mystery: Separatist group stays quiet on Maine training plans

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