Extremist Group or Rap Group? Those Who Know ‘Southern Slaves' Say It's Art

Police say a 21-year-old man accused of using his skateboard to damage two police cars belongs to a group that recruits people to violently protest the government. His associates say, in fact, it's a rap group.

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As police maintained surveillance outside the apartment on Northeast 85th Street Saturday morning, Marco Lopez and his associates put the finishing touches on a rap video showing solidarity with protesters of police brutality.

When he emerged shortly after noon, Miami police pounced, weapons drawn, crashing into the car Lopez was riding in and arresting him, witnesses tell NBC 6 News.

In announcing the arrest, Miami police said Lopez "admitted that he belonged to a group called the Southern Slaves," which "holds meetings and actively recruits people to violently protest the government."

What the police did not say at the time -- but Lopez's friends insist -- is that the group is not an extremist group of organized agitators, as Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted after reading a news account of Lopez's arrest.

It is, in fact, a rap group.

In response to questions from NBC6, Miami police Monday night said it has "no information to indicate they are a hate group" and "none of the members of the group are documented gang members at this time." Nor, police said, do they have "information to indicate that the group is tied to ANTIFA," a political protest movement of independent groups who share a militant opposition to fascism.

"The group has produced rap songs and videos," the Miami police statement said. "We do not know the extent of their following."

Lopez did not have to "admit" he belonged to the Southern Slaves. Those questioned by police Saturday said the authorities investigating him, including the FBI, were aware of public Instagram and YouTube videos show Lopez and others rapping under that name.

The crux of the charges against Lopez: he used his skateboard to smash the rear window and damage the fender of one police cruiser, and later to damage another police car window, before spray painting his rap group's name on the charred remains of a third police car. He is not accused of setting any cars on fire.

Police also added a charge of incite to riot, a felony.

Ryan Rock -- who said he is not a member but, rather, a musical collaborator of the Southern Slaves -- lives in the apartment where the video was cut and uploaded to Instagram and YouTube Saturday morning.

"We are not terrorists," Rock said. "We are simple citizens of the United States, just speaking our mind, you know, just putting out our message about how we feel about the world."

But Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said Lopez crossed the line.

"He clearly indicated, from what I’ve been told, he was there to destroy, that was his purpose," the mayor said. "His philosophy is destruction is protesting."

Carlos Baca, Rock's roommate and another musical collaborator in the video, called "Scars of Wisdom," said he too is not a member of Southern Slaves, which he said was simply "a rap group" -- and not one bent on fomenting revolution.

"Nobody here is violent," Baca said. "None of us here want to cause harm to anybody. We just want to make sure the message is spread and people understand this is wrong and we want something to change."

There is some violent imagery in the video, which Baca and Rock said the police told them they had viewed from their cars after it was uploaded and before the arrest was made.

Lopez is shown pointing a gun at the camera and at his head, feigning suicide.

Perhaps aware a weapon was likely present, the witnesses said, police rammed the car Lopez was riding in and moved in with their firearms drawn as they took him into custody.

The gun, they said, belonged to another man, who had a concealed weapons permit, but was charged anyway -- with driving with a suspended license.

All of the others were released after being interviewed and, in Baca's case, having his tattoos photographed.

Rock said one agent, who identified as a US marshal, asked to search his apartment, but he declined the offer, unless authorities had a warrant.

Miami police said the felony apprehension team that arrested Lopez are also members of a U.S. Marshals fugitive task force and included an investigator who is the member of an FBI task force.

"The FBI and the U.S. Attorneys office participated in the investigation in order to ascertain whether Mr. Lopez's actions constituted a violation of federal law," the statement read. "At this time, Mr. Lopez is not facing any federal charges."

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