Police arrested 11 from an armed group of men claiming “not recognize our laws” after a standoff with police in Massachusetts that shut down a major highway during the busy holiday weekend and prompted shelter-in-place orders.
The bizarre incident played out Saturday morning after a state trooper saw a group of eight to 10 men in military-style uniforms refueling their vehicle on the side of 1-95 around 1:30 a.m. in Wakefield, about 10 miles north of Boston.
The men — who carried tactical gear like body cameras and helmets and had long guns slung over their shoulders — told the trooper they were on their way to Maine from Rhode Island for “training.”
During the traffic stop, two arrests were made. The rest of the group, identifying themselves as “Moorish American Arms,” fled into a wooded area. Nine were detained by 10:45 a.m. local time, and two more suspects were found in their vehicles.
The standoff shut down part of I-95 in Wakefield in both directions, prompting heavy traffic as people hit the road for the Fourth of July weekend. It remains partially closed.
Residents in Wakefield and nearby Reading were advised to lock their doors and shelter in place. Wakefield police said in its statement that no threats had been made but the men were considered armed and dangerous. No injuries or shots fired have been reported.
Massachusetts officials said the group claimed it “does not recognize our laws.” ABC News is asking federal officials whether or not this group is known for extremism.
Mass State Police Col. Christopher Mason said the “self-professed leader” of the group wanted it to be known that they are not antigovernment.
“I think the investigation that follows from this interaction will provide us more insight into what their motivation, what their ideology is,” Mason said.
In a video posted to social media Saturday morning, a man who did not give his name, but said he was from a group called Rise of the Moors, broadcast from Interstate 95 in Wakefield near exit 57.
“We are not anti-government. We are not anti-police, we are not sovereign citizens, we’re not Black identity extremists,” said the man who appeared to be wearing military-style equipment. “As specified multiple times to the police that we are abiding by the peaceful journey laws of the United States.”
The website for the group says they are “Moorish Americans dedicated to educating new Moors and influencing our Elders.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Moorish sovereign citizen movement as a “collection of independent organizations and lone individuals” that “espouse an interpretation of sovereign doctrine that African Americans constitute an elite class within American society with special rights and privileges that convey on them a sovereign immunity placing them beyond federal and state authority.
It is unclear if the group in the Wakefield standoff follows this doctrine.
“Members of the Moorish sovereigns, called Moors, have come into conflict with federal and state authorities over their refusal to obey laws and government regulations. Recently, Moorish sovereign citizens have engaged in violent confrontations with law enforcement,” according to the SPLC.
Last month, a Los Angeles man who identified himself as a Moorish sovereign was arrested in Newark, New Jersey, after locking himself inside a woman’s home and declaring it his ancestral property.