Baton Rouge shooter has 'no affiliation' with Moorish Science Temple, Philly sheik says

Azeem Hopkins-Bey, grand sheik of the Moorish Science Temple of America in North Philadelphia and a national spokesman, speaks at a news conference outside of Philadelphia City Hall.

A national spokesman for the Moorish Science Temple of America said his religious group should not be confused with other Moorish groups that some news outlets have linked to Baton Rouge, La., police shooter Gavin Long.

"Regarding the shooter in Baton Rouge, he has no affiliation or ties with the Moorish Science Temple of America," Azeem Hopkins-Bey, 36, grand sheik of the temple at 2559 N. Fifth St. in North Philadelphia, said at a news conference Monday outside City Hall. "In fact, his ideologies and his actions are diametrically opposed to [our] teachings."

The news conference had been scheduled since last week to discuss a solution to recent shooting deaths of black men by police, and shootings of police in Dallas. But Sunday's shooting - in which three law enforcement officers were killed by a man who some news outlets have tied to Moorish and antigovernment groups - brought the issue even closer to home for the religious order.

Hopkins-Bey denounced the 29-year-old shooter and gave honor to those shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the officers targeted by rogue shooters in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

"At the Moorish Science Temple of America, all life is sacred," said Hopkins-Bey, dressed in a black suit, red tie, and red fez. He was flanked by eight men and women of the group, all dressed in red and black. They stood at noon on the north side of City Hall in more than 90-degree heat and attracted about a dozen onlookers.

To resolve the heightened racial tensions following the spate of killings, he said, Americans should stop referring to race at all.

"The solution is not having more discussions about race," he said. "Black and white are political terms that describe the condition and status of a people."

Going back to slavery times, he said, white was used to place a specific group in a "perpetual superior position" and black to label people in a "perpetual inferior position."

"There is no such thing as a black race, there is no such thing as a white race. There is only one race, and that is the human race," he said.

Moorish Americans are descendants of Moroccans who are born in America, he said. The group is part of the Islamic faith.

Hopkins-Bey also said the Moorish Science Temple of America "is no separatist group, it is not an antigovernment organization."

He called for peaceful protests, love, and substantive solutions.

Long, a former Marine sergeant from Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday fatally shot three law enforcement officers and wounded three others, one critically, at a Baton Rouge gas station. He was killed by police afterward.

Some news outlets later linked him to a Moorish group.

A CNN report Monday cited two law enforcement officials saying that investigators found a card on Long's body suggesting he was a member of the Washitaw Nation, a Moorish group.

Long had wanted to change his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra last year, according to court records in Jackson County, Mo. But court officials told Reuters he never completed the process of legally changing his name.

The Kansas City Star reported that Long spouted antigovernment views and was a member of an offshoot of the "sovereign citizen" movement, the Washitaw Nation of Mu'urs.

Ryan Lenz, senior writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project and editor of its Hatewatch blog, wrote Monday that "Members of 'Moorish' sovereign groups and other black Americans have for years been taking up the ideas of the antigovernment 'sovereign citizen' movement - a movement whose adherents believe they are outside the reach of most law."

Lenz noted that the Washitaw Nation "is something different" from the Moorish Science Temple.

Long himself, in a YouTube video posted more than a week before the shootings, said he did not want to be associated with organized groups in case anything happened to him, the Star reported.

shawj@phillynews.com

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