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Moorish Americans Take Over a Rural Gun Range, Sparking a Strange Showdown

The complaints about the property on Fire Tower Road were urgent but not too far out of the ordinary in this rural stretch of Southern Maryland: Earsplitting gunfire, endangered cows, a stray bullet that pierced a neighbor’s equipment shed.

But that was before the would-be heirs to a mythical North African empire moved in, claiming their dominion extends not only over the lost island of Atlantis but also over five acres in Charles County.

The episode began when gun enthusiasts started getting together on Sundays for target practice at the wooded property of 64-year-old Byron Bell.

As the gatherings grew bigger, along with the caliber of weapons and the number of rounds discharged, they drew the ire of neighbors even in this sparsely populated and gun-friendly area.

Yet it was after county officials took action, deeming the site an unlawful firing range and filing an injunction to stop it from operating in September, that events took several unexpected turns. That was when a group calling itself Moorish Americans — an offshoot of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement whose members believe they are immune from dealings with U.S. legal and financial systems — essentially took over the range, declaring it “protected under the consular jurisdiction of Morocco.”

There followed arrests, flurries of spurious legal documents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, all to the accompaniment of what neighbors describe as an ongoing din of gunfire on weekends. Things escalated last week when sheriff’s deputies raided the property, seizing what Bell said were about a dozen firearms.


Bell began hosting shooting days on his land in 2021. The events were organized by Mark “Choppa” Manley, a social media influencer and former D.C. security guard who promoted the site as home to the “Choppa Community” — an incubator of firearms education and ownership for African Americans.


{snip} On Sept. 9 the county attorney’s office filed an emergency petition for an injunction against shooting on the property.

Yet around the same time, county officials came up against a new challenge. It was heralded by the filing of perplexing documents — adorned with symbols including the star and crescent and the pyramid-tip “Eye of Providence” that appears on the back of the dollar bill — asserting that the dispute over Bell’s land was subject to the terms of an 1836 treaty between the United States and Morocco.

Among those documents was a “writ of error” signed by a man identifying himself as Lamont Maurice El and claiming that he was the consul general of the “Morocco Consular Court at the Maryland state republic.”

The consul, whose real name is Lamont Maurice Butler, had some experience with Maryland’s judicial system. In 2013, he was convicted on multiple charges stemming from his attempt to occupy a 12-bedroom Bethesda mansion. The ideology that had fueled that escapade was the same he later brought to bear in the legal wrangling over the property on Fire Tower Road.


Moorish Americans, also known as Moorish sovereign citizens, believe themselves to be the inheritors of a fictitious empire that they say stretched from the present-day kingdom of Morocco to North America, with Mexico and Atlantis thrown in for good measure. They claim the same protections from U.S. legal proceedings that are granted to foreign citizens, while simultaneously asserting their rights to take over properties — often well-appointed homesowned by other people — that they say are still part of the “Moroccan Empire.”

Bell declared his Moorish American citizenship in September, according to court documents. He told The Post that he was still struggling to understand much of the group’s doctrine but that he found it “very educational.”

Among the things he had learned, he said, was that he should consider himself exempt from the county’s legal actions — in part because government officials did not refer to him in court documents by the Moorish variant of his name, Byron David Bell-Bey.


Butler, who had attended the weekend shooting gatherings when they were overseen by Manley, joined with other Moorish Americans to reopen the range, charging $25 a head and promising that “security will be in full force for everyone’s safety and protection” under Moroccan consular jurisdiction.


On Nov. 13, Butler and another Moorish American, George Neal-Bey, tried to intervene when Charles County sheriff’s deputies pulled over a third member of the group. In a video that the Moorish Americans later posted online, Butler — wearing a camouflage uniform, dark headscarf and a pistol on his hip — can be seen approaching the deputies on the side of the road. Four of them then abruptly wrestle him to the ground while a fifth stands by with his gun drawn.

Butler and Neal-Bey were arrested and later indicted on various gun-related charges. Butler was also charged with resisting arrest. A judge ordered them held without bail. {snip}

Their case files have begun to thicken with documents bearing esoteric symbols. On Dec. 7, Butler filed a handwritten affidavit demanding acknowledgment of his treaty rights.

Bell, who until recently ignored the court order to close the range and has not appeared for court hearings, is now facing a $350,000 sanction for contempt of court. {snip}