Challenging law enforcement interactions with sovereign citizens in the United States have become commonplace in the last decade. Officers and deputies across the country have been receiving training for more than a decade now on how to effectively recognize, converse with, de-escalate, and competently charge and prosecute sovereigns when their confused political and religious beliefs cross the line into criminality.
As I travel the country training various law enforcement agencies on subversive groups, I hear scores of stories of uncooperative, belligerent, and often violent sovereign citizens encountered primarily during traffic stops. I regularly advise many of our nation’s fraud detectives as they navigate the sordid financial scams perpetrated by some sovereigns. Even more violent, complex, and extravagant problems are often caused by sovereign citizens for our nation’s cops.
From the father-son ambush murders of West Memphis, AR, police officers in 2010, to the most recent armed highway standoff with Moorish sovereigns in Massachusetts this July, law enforcement officers in the United States are unfortunately the first contact with sovereigns bent on breaking the laws they do not believe apply to them.
The group that has recently been in the national headlines in this struggle between law and order and chaos are some of the members of the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA), generally referred to as “Moors.”
It’s important to note that the majority of the 110-year-old MSTA’s adherents do not dabble in sovereign citizen ideology. However, there remains a large contingent who utilize the esoteric tenets of traditional MSTA logic to mask and support their claims to sovereignty against federal laws, including the paying of taxes. (For the purposes of the bulk of this article, use of the word “Moor” will refer to the criminal-minded, sovereign-claiming devotees.)
The pure MSTA philosophy was penned by North Carolinian Timothy Drew, later known as Noble Drew Ali, in 1913. Original Moorish beliefs and teachings centered on African heritage and nationalism, personal accountability and discipline, and religious devotion borrowed from the tenets and structure of Islam.
In the early 1990s, the MSTA philosophy began to be hijacked and twisted to support claims of national sovereignty and legal immunity by a subgroup of its members. Today, America’s law enforcement officers often have volatile encounters with these “sovereign citizen” Moors, as they teach and believe that due to their historical ethnicity as Moors, supported by an arcane treaty signed in 1787 between the United States and Morocco, the laws of our nation simply do not apply to them.
Moors most commonly cause problems for law enforcement during encounters when officers are operating with the least amount of intelligence and nearly no time to pre-plan, for example, during traffic stops. While the typical driver will cooperate with the temporary detention and request of “license and registration,” Moors will often not roll down their window to speak; they will provide the deputy or officer with a “questionnaire” he or she must complete before winning the Moor’s compliance; or they will offer the law enforcement agent an alternative MSTA identity card or other such baffling documentation. While the officer then struggles to determine a plan of action, Moors will regularly summon other Moors by text message, who will respond to the scene and create more pandemonium for the officer. Such encounters, if not quickly and decidedly quelled, can become extremely volatile and dangerous.
Sovereign-leaning Moors are often masters of various fraud scams. From “credit cleaning” services with the promise of revitalizing someone’s credit scores for a mere small fee, to squatting in vacant houses and in-depth mortgage fraud, these individuals are constantly involved in illegal get-rich-quick schemes.
Traditional sovereign ideology holds that only people can own houses, therefore vacant houses in foreclosure, legally repossessed and owned by financial institutions, are to sovereigns merely opportunities.
Moorish sovereigns will often break in, squat, formulate false deeds, and complete illegitimate cash sales with unsuspecting victims who then find themselves enmeshed deep in legal red tape. Even seasoned fraud investigators are challenged when having to untangle such complex, premeditated financial crimes.
Moors who run afoul of law enforcement have also perfected the art of “paper terrorism”. The overwhelming majority of officers are not intimidated in the least by the possibility of high-speed car chases, shootings, and other violence that is a part of our profession. However, the probability of finding yourself the target of a baseless state or federal lawsuit, or discovering an exorbitant false lien against your personal residence, after officers investigate sovereign Moors can be terrifying on an entirely different level. Criminal sovereign Moors will often initiate these false legal proceedings in hopes of intimidating law enforcement officers and thereby protecting their other sordid scams.
American Moorish sovereign citizens are exclusively of African-American ethnicity, as the basic doctrine of the original MSTA teachings supported citizens of African, Moorish heritage. Another sure tell for Moors is their characteristic Fez headwear. Named after the city of Fez in Morocco, these cylindrical, felt hats with a dangling tassel are generally maroon or black in color, and are worn publicly as an outward sign of the Moorish philosophy.
Moors will often operate their vehicles bearing false MSTA license plates. These tags, mimicking the shape, size, and material of legal plates, often bear common Moorish images and words such as “Indigenous,” “American National,” “Mu’ur Republic,” and the Moroccan flag, which is a red field with a green five-pointed star. These false registration plates appear, at first glance, to be authentic with numerous numbers and other insignia that can be found on legitimate tags.
Often, Moors may reluctantly provide officers with authentic-looking MSTA ID cards instead of driver licenses and vehicle registration cards. It is also commonplace for Moors to add the extension of “El Bey” to the end of their birth surnames.
Moors are most often revealed to law enforcement officers by their own speech. Many sovereign citizen Moors will have studied extensively from “Black’s Law Dictionary” or pseudo-legal references and will pepper their accusatory and vindictive speech with phrases found therein. Sovereign Moors will defer to the “de facto” government and insist sovereignty over their “domicile,” which they will state is their vehicle while they are seated inside. Moors often question officers with “Who is the victim?” when they are stopped for minor traffic infractions, and attempt to mandate that officers produce and show their oaths of office.
The job of the professional law enforcement officer is extremely challenging, and sovereign citizens represent physical, legal, and financial threats for officers. As with any new and vexing problem, once the mystery is peeled away, officers are much more comfortable to delve competently into these subcultures when they encounter them on the streets.
Officers should continually familiarize themselves with current indicators of sovereign ideology among citizens they contact. As previously noted, not all sovereigns, and certainly not all Moors have subversive or criminal intent. However, having an awareness of the warning signs of sovereign beliefs can better provide officers with even a slight advantage to prepare their minds and body for action.
Kory Flowers is a 22-year veteran lieutenant with the Greensboro (NC) Police Department. He trains law enforcement officers nationwide on various subversive criminal groups, leadership, tactical communication, and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.