An hours long standoff with a group of heavily armed men that partially shut down Interstate 95 ended Saturday with 11 suspects in custody, Massachusetts state police said.
Police initially reported nine suspects were taken into custody, but two more were taken into custody in their vehicle later Saturday morning.
Two suspects were hospitalized, but police said it was for preexisting conditions that had nothing to do with the standoff.
Mass State Police Col. Christopher Mason said the suspects surrendered after police tactical teams used armored vehicles to tighten the perimeter around them.
The standoff shut down a portion of I-95 for much of the morning, causing major traffic problems during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Authorities said the interstate is now reopened and the shelter-in-place orders for Wakefield and Reading were lifted.
In Massachusetts, Interstate 95 runs from the Rhode Island line, around Boston to the New Hampshire line. Wakefield is just east of where Interstate 95 and 93 meet north of Boston.
The standoff began around 2 a.m. when police noticed two cars pulled over on I-95 with hazard lights on after they had apparently run out of fuel, authorities said at a Saturday press briefing.
At least some of the suspects were clad in military-style gear with long guns and pistols, Mason said. He added that they were headed to Maine from Rhode Island for “training.”
“You can imagine 11 armed individuals standing with long guns slung on an interstate highway at 2 in the morning certainly raises concerns and is not consistent with the firearms laws that we have in Massachusetts,” Mason said.
He said he understood the suspects, who did not have firearms licenses, have a different perspective on the law.
“I appreciate that perspective,” he said “I disagree with that perspective at the end of the day, but I recognize that it’s there.”
The men refused to put down their weapons or comply with authorities’ orders, claiming to be from a group “that does not recognize our laws” before taking off into a wooded area, police said.
Police and prosecutors are working to determine what charges the members of the group will face.
The suspects were expected to appear in court in Woburn on Tuesday, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said.
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 antigovernment. 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.”
Freddy Cruz, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center who specializes in anti-government extremism, told WBUR it’s very common for extremist groups to deny affiliation.
“These Moorish sovereign groups will try and say they’re not sovereign citizens,” Cruz said. “In some cases, they’ll say they’re not militias even when they are fully-fledged militias with a hierarchy in place, with leaders and rank-and-file members.”
Cruz said the men calling themselves Rise of the Moors who were apprehended in Wakefield fit a lot of “pseudo-legal nonsense” criteria: a refusal to acknowledge the United States government, a claim to be a sovereign nation, disregard for licenses for vehicles or weapons, and disbelief in taxation.
“In their world, a better society can be built that is more fair and just. With Rise of Moors, they’ll try and take property or try to claim an abandoned house,” Cruz said. “A lot of these groups try and do it with the idea that they can provide a better life for their followers… a lot of times, unfortunately, I think people who have fallen on hard times tend to take on a lot of these beliefs with the idea that their lives can somehow be improved.”
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. WBUR’s Quincy Walters contributed to this story.
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