After a Maryland county cracked down on an illegal gun range, a group of self-declared heirs to an imaginary empire tried making the case that it wasn’t part of the U.S. at all.
They said they were Moorish Americans, inheritors of an empire they say once stretched from Morocco to North America – and the mythical city of Atlantis, the Washington Post reported.
A spin-off of the “sovereign citizens” movement, the Moorish Americans believe they’re immune from U.S. legal and financial systems. In multiple instances, they have claimed ancestral rights and cited obscure treaties to occupy people’s homes, as reported by the New York Times.
Beginning last year, a group of them attended weekly gatherings with barbecue, target practice, and youth gun safety lessons on the Maryland property of 64-year-old Byron Bell. Nuisance complaints eventually spurred the county to shut them down over a technicality in September.
In response, Moorish Americans in the group declared the property “protected under the consular jurisdiction of Morocco,” created an entry fee, and said they’d provide security under Moroccan authority. Documents with mysterious symbols were filed claiming Bell’s property was covered in an 1836 treaty between the U.S. and Morocco.
Bell declared his own Moorish American citizenship that month. He told the Post he struggled to understand most of the group’s message but found it “very educational.”
But Bell now faces a $350,000 sanction for contempt of court for not shutting down the range. And this month, sheriff’s deputies seized guns and a computer while searching his home for illegal or modified guns.
He recently started following the court order to stop shooting on his property, and $1,000 is taken off his fine every day he complies. Bell asserted he learned his lesson, saying, “You got to follow the rules.”
Another Moorish American was less lucky. Lamont Butler, a self-declared Moroccan diplomat who had attended the weekly gatherings, was arrested in November after trying to stop sheriff’s deputies from arresting another Moorish American. He faces multiple charges and recently filed an affidavit demanding his treaty rights be acknowledged.
Footage of the incident was uploaded to YouTube.