On June 23, seven members of the obscure Seas of David group were arrested by federal and local security officials in a low-income housing project in the Liberty City section of Miami and in Atlanta. The arrests were part of a four month operation and the latest in a series of arrests of alleged homegrown militants inspired by al-Qaeda who planned attacks on U.S. soil. According to official reports, the group swore a bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and sought weapons, equipment, training and financing from an undercover FBI operative posing as an al-Qaeda member in order to carry out attacks against high-profile targets across the country, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI’s field office in Miami. Narseale Batiste, the alleged ringleader of Seas of David, is also reported to have stated that he and his group intended to “kill all the devils that we can.” Batiste is reported to have referred to members of his group as “soldiers” in an “Islamic army” who are determined to wage a “full ground war” against the U.S. government. The group also referred to the warehouse in Liberty City where they met and lived as their “embassy” (Miami Herald, June 23, June 25).
Despite initial fears, FBI officials believe that the group never had links or contact with al-Qaeda and that they did not pose an immediate threat. In this sense, John Pistole, deputy director of the FBI, labeled the group as “aspirational rather than operational,” in that they are believed to have had the will to carry out these attacks, but were far from possessing the necessary means and capabilities. Searches of the group’s facility did uncover video reconnaissance footage of Miami’s James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building and other Miami courthouses, the Federal Detention Center and police stations, along with photographs of the local FBI field office and Chicago’s Sears Tower. Investigators, however, did not uncover arms or explosives (Miami Herald, June 23, June 25).
Given the group’s reported affinity for al-Qaeda, what makes this incident especially interesting is the fact that Seas of David is not a Muslim organization. By all accounts, the group uses Muslim discourse and symbols. Yet it also relies heavily on Jewish and Christian discourse and symbols. This includes what is described as a homemade Star of David arm patch worn by its estimated 40 members (Miami Herald, June 23). Friends and family of the suspects claim that none of them are Muslims but in fact are practicing Christians, some devout. Batiste’s father, a Christian preacher in Louisiana, claims that his son may be emotionally disturbed, but that he is certainly not a terrorist. Local sources say that Batiste could often be seen walking with a cane and wearing a black robe (Miami Herald, June 24, June 25).
Seas of David members are reported to follow a strict and regimented lifestyle that emphasizes personal discipline. This includes regular exercise and training in the martial arts, and abstention from alcohol, drugs and meat. They also met regularly to study the Bible and the Quran in what they describe as a “temple,” not a Muslim mosque. Most of the group’s members were unemployed or had criminal backgrounds. The warehouse the group had rented was located in an impoverished and predominantly African American section of Miami. Five of the accused are U.S. citizens. One is a resident alien and the other was in the United States illegally from Haiti (Miami Herald, June 23, June 24).
In many respects, the group appears to subscribe to its own brand of radical pan-African identity and nationalist worldview, drawing heavily on aspects of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Batiste’s use of “devils” in labeling his alleged targets reflects radical pan-African influences that see whites as “devils.”
According to some reports, Batiste was inspired by groups such as the Moorish Science Temple of America and its founder, Timothy Drew. Drew is commonly known as Prophet Noble Drew Ali to his followers. Founded in 1913, the Moorish Science Temple claims to be a branch of Islam. In reality, the movement incorporates Judaism, Christianity and other faiths in its teachings in what amounts to its own unique worldview that some observers label as a reassessment of Christianity. Among other things, it believes that African-Americans are the descendants of the Muslim Moors and, by extension, have a Muslim identity that was suppressed by the legacy of slavery and racism. Therefore, highlighting the Moorish heritage of African-Americans represents an assertion of identity in societies where they may suffer from poverty and discrimination (http://www.moorishsciencetempleofamericainc.com).
The Moorish Science Temple has since splintered into many disparate factions. It is widely regarded as one of the main inspirations of the Nation of Islam and scores of other Black identity movements. Yet according to Willie Bey, a divine minister of the Moorish Science Temple in Chicago, his group has no ties to Seas of David and condemns all forms of violence (Chicago Sun-Times, June 25). It is important to note that orthodox Muslim organizations see groups such as the Moorish Science Temple and Seas of David as cults. Federal investigators appear to have arrived at a similar conclusion when it became clear that the group did not represent al-Qaeda but rather an attempt to emulate established Black identity groups, the most radical of which see the U.S. government as an enemy (Miami Herald, June 23). Others suggest that Seas of David may have been influenced by the Yahweh ben Yahweh, a radical Black identity movement established in the Miami area in the 1970s that preached Black supremacy and separatism. This group also borrows heavily from Judaism, Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Islam (http://www.yahwehbenyahweh.com).
Despite Seas of David’s dubious worldview, what is alarming is its alleged willingness to look to al-Qaeda for inspiration and assistance in order to further its goals. This may point to a growing trend among other radical groups that have little or no connection to al-Qaeda. For example, website forums and chat rooms hosted by U.S.-based neo-Nazi organizations such as the Aryan Nations often contain lengthy debates and commentary by participants on the potential utility of theoretical alliances between neo-Nazis and radical Islamists. There is also evidence that al-Qaeda’s success in drawing international attention to its cause is inspiring others to reevaluate how they pursue their own radical agendas (http://www.aryan-nations.org).