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One year after the armed standoff, Rhode Island’s Rise of the Moors is in limbo

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 7/2/2022 Amanda Milkovits
A screenshot from video streamed by the Rise of the Moors group during the I-95 standoff. © Screen capture A screenshot from video streamed by the Rise of the Moors group during the I-95 standoff.

Some thought the spectacle may have been the point when heavily armed members of the Rise of the Moors stopped on the side of Interstate 95 in Wakefield, Massachusetts, around 1 a.m. on July 3, 2021, leading to an hours-long standoff with Massachusetts State Police.

What happened during the standoff with armed men on I-95 in Wakefield, Mass.?

As the group’s self-proclaimed leader, Jamhal Tavon Sanders Latimer, livestreamed the standoff over social media, he insisted that his group was peaceful. A former US Marine from Providence, Latimer cited interpretations of court decisions and claimed his group was made up of sovereign citizens and their detention by police officers violated an 18th-century treaty between the United States and Morocco. He said they were exempt from US laws and could travel with firearms, and without licenses, from Rhode Island to Maine to “train” on private land.

The confrontation ended peacefully with the arrests of the 10 men and a 17-year-old boy. Among the weapons seized were four rifles, three pistols, and a sawed-off shotgun, as well as loaded magazines and ammunition.

But a year after Massachusetts State Police took the group into custody, the spectacle has been somewhat muzzled by the criminal justice system. The cases are dragging through the courts — some delays caused by those who are acting as their own lawyers — and trials are staggered from August until at least next May.

The Rise of the Moors used to make their presence known in the Greater Providence area, where they could be seen in Moorish attire on the East Side of Providence and outside City Hall, and setting up tables for giveaways in downtown Pawtucket. They posted videos of their meetings online, in which they openly carried firearms and talked about Moorish Science. They even made a music video.

Replay Video

A year later, most of their videos have been removed from social media sites. A new website has been launched, soliciting money and posting videos and documents about their cases.

Just two still remain behind bars. The other nine have been bonded out with promises not to possess firearms or contact their co-defendants while waiting to go to trial.

Half of them have opted to represent themselves in court, with appointed lawyers acting as standby counsel, court records show. At an arraignment hearing in Malden District Court, the men sparred with the judge, asserting the court lacked authority to prosecute them. The theatrics bogged down the proceedings, as did disruptions from people logged onto a livestream complaining of “high treason” and “lies.”

After the armed standoff with Rise of the Moors: The spectacle is the point

Supporters and relatives of the Moors attended the hearing by the dozen. The women wore headscarves and long robes, while some of the men wore burgundy fezzes and satin stoles.

Even after the spectacle fizzled, supporters including Brother Gary Dantzler of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island said he still appreciated that Latimer and his group took action. The Rise of the Moors used to have meetings in a space next to the Black Lives Matter offices in Pawtucket. Their activities in Rhode Island usually involved trying to create legal loopholes. They posted a photo of themselves at a Rhode Island gun store and claimed they used their Moorish IDs to fire at the range; the gun store owner told the Globe that never happened. They attempted to take over a vacant house on Broadway for their headquarters by creating their own documents. (The house was sold to US Department of Housing and Urban Development in May 2021.)

“They didn’t break any laws about the Constitution on bearing guns. Black people need to bear arms like white America does. It doesn’t mean they are anti-white, it means they are bearing arms,” Dantzler told the Globe recently. “The American people have the right to bear arms and the right to practice what they believe in. ... We forget these are American people and that they need to exercise their Moorish Science.”

However, others who practice Moorish Science continue to mock the Rise of the Moors members involved in the standoff, saying the militia group’s affinity for weapons and refusal to follow laws or pay taxes bastardized the teachings of Noble Drew Ali, the founder and prophet of the Moorish Science Temple of America.

Rhode Island’s Rise of the Moors are living on an ‘imaginary island,’ says Moorish Science Temple of America

“They still the fools that they are,” said Chief Minister Shaykh Ra Saadi El of The Moorish Science Temple of America, in Atlanta, Ga.

Immediately after the highway arrests, Saadi El publicly criticized the Rhode Island group. He said he got some pushback from other people who follow the religious practice, but he stands by his words.

“I want everybody to know, I did not throw them under the bus — I made the world fall on them,” Saadi El told the Globe. “You’re lying on a man of God, you are bringing shame and disappointment to a divine organization, a religious society. You are trying to drive without a license, try to arm up — Noble Drew Ali told us to avoid all that.”

Rise of the Moors group arose from a growing, national sovereign citizen movement, experts say

Saadi El was disgusted by the organization’s attempts to control their message and collect money online. “I’d like to send them food stamps and Monopoly money, so they can buy imaginary property when they get out,” he said.

Since last year, however, Saadi El said he has seen other groups form, insisting that they, too, are sovereign citizens. He called them “childlike.”

They don’t see how the philosophy of the Rise of the Moors is failing them at the courthouse. Their legal documents are viewed as gibberish, the Moroccan Consulate hasn’t come to their aid, and acting as their own lawyers hasn’t helped them, he said. Their only success has been in clogging the legal system, he added.

All 10 adults were indicted by a grand jury in Middlesex Superior Court in September and have been teamed in pairs for trial. (The teenager’s case is not a public record.)

Latimer, 30, and Quinn Cumberlander, 41, who is from Pawtucket, R.I., are the first scheduled for a jury trial. A date is set for Aug. 1.

Both men are charged with two counts of possession of a large capacity firearm, carrying a firearm without a license, and improper storage of firearms.

Cumberlander, who goes by Quinn Khabir El, is also facing felony charges of possession of a sawed-off shotgun and possession of a large capacity feeding device. In Rhode Island, Providence police are charging him with three counts of false information in securing a firearm or license.

Both men are representing themselves in court. Latimer’s standby counsel, Daniel Peter Thompson, declined to comment. Cumberlander’s lawyer Marcia Kovner did not return calls seeking comment.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office declined to discuss the pending cases.

Cumberlander was granted $5,000 cash bail on March 29 in Massachusetts and posted bond on the Rhode Island charges last month. He agreed to attend all court dates in person while residing with family in Bowie, Maryland.

Latimer has a bail hearing scheduled for July 14.

His court file is rife with handwritten motions claiming discrimination and arguing that he is exempt from prosecution while also citing treaties, federal laws and the Geneva Convention.

“There continues to be prejudice against me and my fellow Moors,” Latimer wrote in a 34-page filing. “There is clearly little hope for justice in our cases; justice based on the spirit of the law and not merely the colored letter of the law.”

Lamar Dow, aka Jamil Rasul Bey of the Bronx, N.Y., was ordered to Bridgewater State Hospital on May 24, court records show, to be “committed for observation after failing to acknowledge the court, or conduct himself accordingly.”

Court records show that Dow, who was 34 when he was arrested, has repeatedly disrupted court proceedings or declined to appear for hearings. At a June 15 competency hearing, Dow refuse to participate and was remanded back to the Billerica House of Corrections. His lawyer, Keith Durden, asked to withdraw from the case. Durden did not return calls seeking comment.

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