“No threats were made, but these men should be considered armed and dangerous,” the department said in a statement at the time.
The incident concluded about nine hours later with authorities saying all those involved had been apprehended. The men are expected to appear in district court on a variety of firearms charges Tuesday morning. In the meantime, investigators are still trying to determine what, if any, motives the group might have had.
State Police Col. Christopher Mason said the men were not carrying gun licenses. Massachusetts law generally bans unlicensed people from driving on the interstate with firearms that are not secured in a case.
“You can imagine 11 armed individuals standing with long guns slung on an interstate highway at 2 in the morning certainly raises concerns,” he said. “I understand that they have a different perspective on that. I appreciate that perspective. I disagree with that perspective.”
Mason said the men were wearing camouflage jackets, bulletproof vests and body cameras. They carried long rifles, pistols or a combination, he said. Members of the group told police they were traveling from Rhode Island to Maine for “training.”
“The self-professed leader wants it very much known that their ideology is not anti-government,” Mason said.
According to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, the suspects have been charged with unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition, among other crimes. Two men are refusing to identify themselves and a third is an unnamed 17-year-old minor. The identified suspects are: Jamhal Tavon Sanders Latimer, 29; Robert Rodriguez, 21; Wilfredo Hernandez, 23; Alban el Curraugh, 27; Aaron Lamont Johnson, 29; Quinn Cumberlander, 40; Lamar Dow, 34; and Conrad Pierre, 29.
The men appear to be adherents of the “Moorish Sovereign Citizens,” according to Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Adherents assert based on conspiracy theories that they are part of a sovereign nation and are thus not subject to U.S. law. The ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center have identified the Sovereign Citizens as an extremist movement.
Self-identified adherents have been involved in numerous instances of violence in recent decades that have often targeted government officials and police. In some other instances, they have engaged in gun violence with police after routine traffic stops.
When confronted near a Walmart in Orange County, Fla., in 2017, one adherent, Markeith D. Loyd, shot an Orlando police officer and then ran over a county sheriff’s deputy, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report.
In January of last year, Markese D. Lampley, who identified himself as “Mileage Galor Bey,” claimed to be a sovereign citizen after his arrest on charges that he shot and killed a restaurant manager in Edinboro, Pa., according to an ADL report. In court, Lampley asserted that authorities had no jurisdiction over him.
Pitcavage said there have been other instances in which adherents have shot at police after routine traffic stops.
“It was very fortunate that no one got hurt today,” he said. He said he was surprised by reports that the group arrested Saturday was en route to Maine for training, as the movement has not usually been associated with paramilitary activity.
A video posted to social media Saturday morning showed a man broadcasting from I-95 near Wakefield, clad in what appeared to be tactical gear.
“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 did not give his name but said he was from a group called Rise of the Moors. “As specified multiple times to the police that we are abiding by the peaceful journey laws of the United States federal courts.”
The man said the group was on the side of the road early that morning when police approached.
“We were afraid, so we got out with our arms,” the man said. He referred to the group as a “militia” in a separate video, saying they intended to travel peacefully to Maine.
Mason said state police negotiators talked to the group, “but there comes a time and a place where we have to demonstrate that we are serious.” Law enforcement used armored vehicles to tighten the perimeter and convey that message, he said.
“It had its desired effect, and they were compliant very quickly,” he said.
The shelter-in-place order, issued during the standoff for affected areas of Wakefield and nearby Reading, has since been lifted.
Part of I-95 in the Wakefield area was shut for several hours, leading to major traffic delays at the start of the holiday weekend. By late Saturday morning, the interstate had reopened, though some police activity remained in the area.
Officers are awaiting warrants to search the vehicles, Mason said, and an undisclosed number of firearms have been seized.
“Their actions have had a significant impact on the motoring public — particularly given that this is a holiday weekend,” he said.