PAWTUCKET, R.I. — For the men arrested after an hours-long armed standoff over the weekend, the spectacle may have been the point.
The members of Rhode Island-based Rise of the Moors aren’t violent or radical — they are exercising their rights as sovereign Black men, Brother Gary Dantzler, the leader of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, said on Tuesday. He knows the leader of the group well, and grew up learning about Moorish Science himself as a boy in Brooklyn.
And the incident on Saturday on I-95 in Wakefield, Mass., only drew more attention to a movement that has slowly grown throughout the United States, he said.
While the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Rise of the Moors as one of 25 active antigovernment sovereign-citizen groups identified in 2020, Dantzler said that label misses the mark.
They’re not terrorists, he said. They’re not against America. They are for their own people.
Their philosophy comes from a man named Noble Drew Ali, the founder and prophet of the Moorish Science Temple of America, the first mass religious community in the history of American Islam. It’s the Black nationalist model for the nation of Islam, led from 1934 to 1975 by Elijah Muhammad.
The Rise of the Moors uses teachings of the Moorish Science Temple and Islam, focusing on respect for laws and the Second Amendment right to bear arms, Dantzler said.
“It’s about Black liberation. It’s about Black empowerment. It’s about having our own constitution, because Black people have been robbed of everything,” Dantzler said. “So this is why these guys are heroes — Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad — we praise these guys.”
In video livestreamed from the scene early Saturday morning, Jamhal Tavon Sanders Latimer, a former Marine who goes by Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey and is the grand sheik of the Rhode Island group, said the Rise of the Moors’ members believe they are foreign nationals in the United States and that his group was traveling through Massachusetts under a Moroccan flag attached to their vehicles.
“I reassured them that we are not Black-identity extremists. I reassured them that we are not antipolice,” Latimer said in one video. “I reassured them that we are not antigovernment. 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.”
Latimer cited a Supreme Court case, Young v. The State of Hawaii, which he said authorized the Rise of the Moors to bear arms.
“Simply bearing arms is not a crime,” he said.
“We choose to continue on our peaceful journey. Please do not infringe. We can settle this in court peacefully,” said another man traveling with the group. “Please do not be a threat to us.”
Litigation has been a key tactic used by the Rise of the Moors in Rhode Island. Dantzler said that it’s a way to reclaim power. The group is not violent, Dantzler said. But it is litigious.
“White America has one agenda — that is the court system of white supremacy. It’s been ruled over 500 years,” Dantzler said. “So now that these guys [have] been around, since the ‘40s and ‘50s, they taught us about education, how to rise as Black people, that we don’t have to go under American’s law, because we’re Moors.”
“We have our own laws,” Dantzler said, explaining the group’s beliefs. “You guys got your laws. We have ours.”
The Rhode Island-based Rise of the Moors is connected to a hub in New York, Dantzler said. Latimer and Quinn Cumberlander were the only Rhode Islanders arrested after the standoff; one man was from Michigan, and two others refused to identify themselves. The rest were from New York.
The spectacle continued in Malden on Tuesday, as the men were arraigned on charges related to the standoff. Some refused to cooperate with the judge or the Probation Department, insisting that the state court had no authority over them. Supporters tuned into the Zoom hearing, shouting “Violation!” “Treason!” and “Treaty of peace and friendship!”
Dantzler said he watched Latimer’s YouTube broadcast from the scene during the standoff, and now that the court proceedings have begun, he sees this as a cat-and-mouse game between the Rise of the Moors and the court system, with the Moors “making fun of them” and “mimicking the things they’ve done to us for years.”
The Rise of the Moors’ court battles in Rhode Island include trying to take possession of a multifamily house at 339 Broadway in Pawtucket, which has been vacant for years. They have tied up the bank that foreclosed on the property in court.
They also sued several police departments in New Hampshire in 2019, alleging that a traffic stop and seizure of a vehicle violated their rights. That same year they also sued the Providence Police Department, accusing officers of violating their rights to bear arms and peaceably assemble during a lecture at their temple in a mill building on Acorn Street. Latimer was giving a lecture on Moorish Science, history, and the law while armed when he learned police were about to search the property.
Latimer appealed to the Providence County Superior Court on State Police charges of obstruction, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest from last year. He argues that the state courts have no jurisdiction over him or his wife, as Moors.
In court papers, he noted that the FBI called his organization “a Black extremist group.” Dantzler said that description fits other groups, but not the Moors.
“A few months ago, you watched a whole implement of white supremacists run to the [Capitol] and tore it up, and got killed and killed a few people,” he said. “That’s extremists. There’s guns, they’re rallying, they’re rioting, that’s crazy. ... So, to compare [the Moors] as a radical group is absurd.”
For a while, the Rise of the Moors had its office in a nondescript two-story building on Main Street, next to Black Lives Matter Rhode Island and just a short walk from Pawtucket City Hall. Occasionally, said Steven Porter, the owner of Stillwater Books on Main Street, he would see the Moors wearing their red fezzes setting up tables near the RIPTA bus station and handing out food and clothing to transient people.
“People should be proud they have these people in the community,” Dantzler said of the Moors. “You got the Klan. You got the neo-Nazis, the Proud Boys. They’re here. So why can’t the Moors be here? We need them here. We need more Black people with guns. We need the protection. I think this shows it’s time for us to be liberated.”