The good life didn't last long for Lamont Butler.
The 28-year-old self-described "Moorish American national" moved into an empty mansion in Bethesda, Md., claiming it as his own. He was arrested just a few hours later for breaking and entering, fraud and attempted theft.
According to The Washington Post, Butler cited a 1787 peace treaty and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as proof that the mansion, currently up for sale for $6 million, was lawfully his. The police disagreed.
Just last month, a Memphis woman, also claiming to be a Moorish American national, squatted in an empty mansion. After several days inside the unfurnished home, the woman was arrested while driving late at night. A SWAT team then raided the home to make sure there was nobody else inside.
Another example of squatting: In Seattle, a scammer (not a Moorish American national) who squatted in upscale homes for five years is currently wanted by authorities. Jessica Card, 58, pretended to be a wealthy identity-theft victim. She faces 12 felony counts.
On its official site, the Moorish American government describes its citizens as "descendants of the Ancient Moabites whom inhabited the northwestern and southwestern shores of Africa (including the northwestern territories we now call the Americas) are in lawful pursuit of our actual freedom." The group posted its Divine Constitution here.
The Washington Post spoke with law enforcement officials about the trend. Kory Flowers, an investigator with the Greensboro, N.C., police and a national expert on sovereign groups, said, "It's going on in every state."
People who claim mansions as their own may not be part of the official movement. "We are not a sovereignty group. We are not a land-grabbing thieving group,” Shaykh Ra Saadi El of the Moorish Science Temple of America told WREG in Memphis. “We have driver’s licenses. We pay taxes. We are not a sovereignty group."