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.”

The saga in Welcome, an agglomeration of tumbledown farmhouses and newly built homes roped together by winding country roads, highlights several enduring American loves: Guns, conspiracy theories, property rights and fruitless litigation.

William Tomlinson, who owns a farm that backs up to Bell’s property, said decisive action by law enforcement was long overdue. Tomlinson said many rounds zipped through the air on his property, chewing up a stand of timber trees and forcing him to move his small herd of cattle to a pasture where they aren’t at risk of stopping a stray bullet.

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