Gavin Long, who killed three police officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sunday, had alleged ties to the Washitaw Nation, a sovereign citizen group with members in New Jersey who have engaged in non-violent activity. Members of the Washitaw Nation claim to have an indigenous heritage pre-dating the founding of the United States, and they assert their status as non-citizen residents immune from US laws. The Washitaw—sometimes spelled Washitah—are a branch of Moorish sovereign citizens, the fastest growing segment of the movement in recent years, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
- New Jersey has an active Moorish sovereign citizen community that includes Washitaw Nation members committing opportunistic crimes, such as “squatting”—or participating in property occupation scams—and financial fraud. During a traffic stop in Princeton in May 2015, an individual with an expired registration claimed affiliation with the “Washitaw Far East Indigenous” people. In 2014, self-proclaimed Crown Prince Emperor El Bey Bigbay Bagby of the Washitaw Native American Tribe was charged with using fake diplomatic tags and driving without a license in New Jersey.
- The Washitaw movement originally emerged in Louisiana and Texas in the 1990s as a single group, but it now includes independent groups across the country. Members have created and sold fraudulent documentation and claimed tax-exempt status in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
- The Washitaw ideology has been absorbed by Moorish sovereign citizens who splintered from a black nationalist movement that originated in the 1920s. Moorish sovereign citizens, who refer to themselves as Moors and often append “Bey” to their names, frequently claim special status through membership in tribes such as the Washitaw Nation.