A tough transition out of the military led Jamhal Latimer to Blue Skys Farm in Cranston, R.I., more than five years ago.
An apprenticeship program through a local USDA office led Latimer to the vegetable, flower, and herb farm run by Christina Dedora in April 2016.
“It wasn’t the greatest of experiences,” Dedora said in a telephone interview Monday. “It started off as a really good experience, but it didn’t end that way.”
She declined to elaborate, leaving that part of Latimer’s past, like so much else about him, a mystery.
Latimer, 29, of Providence, on Monday remained jailed on $100,000 bond on a criminal conspiracy charge and a slew of gun charges. He is one of 11 members of the Pawtucket, R.I.-based paramilitary group Rise of the Moors who were arrested Saturday during and after an hours-long standoff with police on I-95 in Wakefield.
During Saturday’s standoff, Latimer identified himself as Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey, a US Marine Corps veteran and leader of Rise of the Moors, a R.I. group that believes they are foreign nationals in the United States.
Aside from a 17-year-old, the arrested men’s ages range from 21 to 40; the majority are in their 20s. Two hail from Rhode Island; one from Detroit; one from Baldwin, N.Y., on Long Island; and four from the Bronx, N.Y.
The other arrested men identified by police are Quinn Cumberlander; Robert Rodriguez; Wilfredo Hernandez, also known as Will Musa; Alban El Curraugh; Aaron Lamont Johnson, also known as Tarrif Sharif Bey; Lamar Dow; and Conrad Pierre.
Two of the men have refused to identify themselves and are being held as John Does. Several initially gave false names to police.
The ins and outs of organic gardening initially seemed to enthrall and satisfy Latimer, as he was then known, according to a Sept. 4, 2016, article titled “Marine Veteran Thrives in Farm Apprentice Program” published in ecoRI news.
Latimer’s stated goal at the time was to start his own nonprofit farm for veterans, the homeless, and people struggling with substance use issues.
“We need a place on this planet, not just a job,” he said. “No one knows that farming work is out there and every farm in this state needs help.”
At the time, the mentoring experience was rewarding for Dedora.
“Jamhal is very intelligent and has a natural hunger for learning,” she said. “He even studies law in his spare time.”
It is unclear what path led Latimer/Bey from organic gardening and legal studies to Saturday’s armed standoff with State Police. His parents, Steven Latimer and Felicia Sanders, said Sunday that he is a nonviolent man deeply committed to helping others.
Police confiscated eight guns from the group, including three AR-15 rifles, two pistols, a bolt-action rifle, a shotgun, and a short-barrel rifle. State Police said none of the men had licenses to carry firearms.
Local authorities on Monday had no new developments to report. It was unclear if the men had lawyers.
“We can neither confirm nor deny investigations,” a spokeswoman for the US Attorney said.
A spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Service said she could not confirm that the men were heading to Maine. She added that the Maine Information and Analysis Center, the intelligence department of the Maine State Police, is investigating any potential connections.
Videos posted to social media by Rise of the Moors showed members dressed in paramilitary gear and displaying military-style weapons and a Moroccan flag, which features a green pentagram on a field of crimson red. The red background represents hardiness, bravery, strength, and valor, while the green represents love, joy, wisdom, peace, and hope, as well as Islam.
The group, which live-streamed the standoff on social media, has said its members adhere to “Moorish Sovereign Ideology,” authorities said. State Police said the men claimed they were traveling from Rhode Island to Maine to conduct “training.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rise of the Moors is one of 25 active anti-government sovereign-citizen groups identified in 2020. It is an early 1990s offshoot of a movement steeped in decades-old conspiracy theories, according to the civil rights group.
“Sovereigns are clogging up the courts with indecipherable filings,” according to the center.
Rise of the Moors’ Facebook page registered more than 1,100 followers Monday, including Carolyn Essex, 51, in Southern California.
“I am very anxious to see what happens to our family in court tomorrow,” Essex posted on Monday on the Moors’ Facebook page.
Essex said she’s been studying up on the group since relatives began identifying as Moors about a year ago.
“The biggest thing for Moors is to test their validity in court,” Essex said by telephone Monday. “This is very huge for the Moors and that’s why I am very interested in seeing how that plays out.”
It’s a movement, Essex said, that pivots on the belief that “Black people are not really citizens of the United States.”
“They’re going to argue that the court has no jurisdiction over them ... and then we’ll see what the court has to say about that,” Essex said.
“The more people find out, the more they identify with it being a viable nationality from Africa,” Essex said. “That’s what’s going on. They have a place in history. Only certain people know about it.”
The Moors’ Instagram page had more than 5,000 followers on Sunday; by Monday it had been taken down. The group’s YouTube channel showed more than 1 million views.