Sunday, December 05, 2010

Moors' legal claims disrupt Virginia courts

Moors say they belong to their own nation and are therefore exempt from U.S. laws.

NORFOLK -- Josep-El Bey began his transformation three years ago from Southern Baptist to Moor.

He studied the faith and teachings of the Moorish American religion and legally changed his name from Joseph Beale.

He paid $500 for a nationality card from a Moor website. In court papers, Bey declared himself a Moor citizen of the Tscnocmoco Territory, commonly known as Virginia.

The new identity didn't help him, though, when he was arrested last year for shooting a man during a fight. A judged sentenced Bey, 30, to five years in prison. Bey has filed a legal appeal stating he should be released because he is a Moorish American and not a United States citizen.

Bey follows the beliefs of the Moorish Science Temple of America, a black-empowerment movement that traces its roots back nearly a century. In recent months, members have drawn renewed attention from local law enforcement for courtroom disruptions, unconventional legal arguments and antipathy toward the legal system.

Members, known as Moors, have disturbed several hearings in Norfolk courts, and filed motions and appeals with questionable legal merit, according to court testimony and records.

Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer said his office, which oversees records for criminal and civil cases and property transactions, has stopped accepting most Moor documents. The documents claiming new rights and immunity as foreign citizens are often frivolous, he said.

The Moorish Science Temple of America was founded by Prophet Noble Drew Ali in Chicago in 1925, according to its website. Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew in North Carolina, formed the religion based on Islamic teachings and the Quran. A central belief is that Moors are not U.S. citizens, but descendants of a Moroccan tribe born in America.

Moors have claimed to be exempt from taxes, holding driver's licenses and adhering to state law, according to Norfolk court records and testimony.

In Norfolk, the group is a small, loosely organized community that meets several times a week at a bookstore.

Kheri Allende El, grand sheik of the temple, said the local branch started in March, although the Moorish community has been in the region much longer.

The group has been called "paper terrorists" for its many court filings, said Allende El.

Allende El said the religion spreads a message of peace, freedom and justice. About one-third of their members have criminal records, he said, and are trying to rebuild their lives. Temple leaders would like to discuss their beliefs with judges to foster better relations, he said.

Members such as Bey say the organization, akin to the Nation of Islam, has instilled pride and discipline into many troubled lives. They find it through word of mouth, on the Internet and in jail cells.

"If you're a Moorish American, you're a law-abiding citizen," said Ra Saadi El, the supreme grand sheik in Atlanta at one of the two oldest temples of the Moorish Science Temple of America.

The websites that offer Moor nationality cards, legal advice and documents for a fee are purveyors or "bootleggers," Saadi El said. They do not adhere to the religion's principles, he said.

The legal maneuvers have failed to convince Virginia judges, as well..

In Hampton, the group advertised this year in a local newspaper that it owned a certain property by rights of a centuries-old treaty, said Cpl. Allison Quinones, spokeswoman for Hampton police.

Neighbors saw men moving furniture into the home, assessed at $640,000, and contacted police, she said. Michiah Zabdiel Ankh Unu-El, 59, has been charged with a misdemeanor count of unlawful entry, she said.

Norfolk sheriff's deputy Sgt. Floyd Williams said he first encountered the group about a year ago, when a Moor fought an eviction by deputies claiming he was a diplomat, he said.

The man's identification card looked authentic -- "gold seals and everything" -- but his immunity argument didn't sound right, Williams said. Williams called the Department of State and asked if the Moors were recognized as an independent nation.

They were not. After a long discussion, the man agreed to leave the property, Williams said.

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