Leaders in the House and Senate on Friday strongly condemned mailings sent to the homes of several state lawmakers by white nationalist organizations and reported the incident to the Capitol Police.
Their condemnation came hours before a legislative committee’s vote not to support a bill that would require Maine public safety agencies to track and address domestic terrorist threats and extremist groups.
The mailing claims to raise awareness of “AntiWhiteism” and promotes white supremacist propaganda such as the “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory that immigration, multiculturalism and diversity initiatives are being used to displace “ethnic Europeans.” It also pushes back against anti-racism terminology such as white privilege and white fragility.
In a joint statement Friday, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said the “inflammatory mail” had been reported to Capitol Police.
“We cannot say this strongly enough: We have zero tolerance for the behavior or intimidation of white nationalist groups,” the leaders said. “The groups that issue these messages pretend to be seeking social justice, but in reality are distorting the information to create a false equivalence to mislead the public and create racial tension.”
It is unclear who sent the letters, but a copy provided to the Press Herald says it was produced in collaboration with World Way, Anti-White Watch, Solidarity Europa and Klaus Arminius.
Peggy Shukur, the interim regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, said Friday that the league is not familiar with these groups and that it is possible the names were made by actual white supremacist organizations.
A report by ADL New England released in March documented 30 incidents of anti-Semitic, racist, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ+ messages in Maine in 2022, a 50% increase over what the group recorded in 2021.
“They are all in the same genre of stunts and tactics that these extremist groups employ,” Shukur said.
‘KEEP OUT OF MAINE’
A spokesman for the Senate president said at least eight members of the caucus received the letters Wednesday, but she did not respond to voicemails and emails seeking additional information about the recipients Friday, including which members received the letters.
House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said they are not aware of any Republican House or Senate members who received the letter.
Faulkingham said it’s not uncommon for lawmakers to get “strange, creepy and sometimes threatening mail.”
“Racism in any form should be condemned and is reprehensible,” Stewart said. “These types of hate groups should stay out of Maine.”
Former Portland City Council candidate Richard Ward, known for displaying a “It’s OK to be White” banner, read the same letter aloud during a public comment period at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Dozens of Portland residents attended the rally to denounce white supremacy after a white nationalist group organized a demonstration in downtown Portland, the state’s largest and most diverse city. About 30 members of the Nationalist Social Club, or NSC-131, marched through the city on April 1 and assaulted several counter-protesters in front of City Hall.
Portland police came under fire at the meeting from residents who criticized officers for not identifying any of the masked members or charging anyone for the assault.
Ward said Friday that he did not send the letter to lawmakers and that he found a copy of it on Twitter. Ward said he shared the letter at Monday’s meeting to exercise free speech and “to show that not everyone thinks exactly the same way.”
“I don’t see how that could be taken as offensive,” Ward said. “If you don’t agree with me, just move on, I guess.”
The National Socialist Club is an extremist group formed in early 2020 in Massachusetts that has had a presence in Maine for more than two years. The group embraces racist tropes spread by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, targets those who are Jewish and non-white, and seeks to create an underground resistance group.
“The state legislature is a place where legislators, members of the public and professional staff deserve safety, security and certainty that the democratic process will operate without harassment,” said Jackson and Talbot Ross, who is Black. “As presiding officers, we will be relentless in protecting every person who visits the Legislature, and we will always call out hateful and racist behavior.”
Later Friday morning, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted “should not pass” a bill that would require the Department of Public Safety to provide annual reports to lawmakers on domestic terrorist threats and groups suspected of posing those threats. The legislation also would have required the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to develop minimum standards for domestic terrorism response and information sharing.
Committee members were concerned that the bill focused too much on targeting groups rather than tracking individual threats and actions.
“I think there is significant concern from the committee about the ambiguity this would create and the ambiguity about who qualifies as a domestic terrorist organization, what the reports would look like, where it would go,” Rep. Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield, said Friday. He added that a “more targeted approach” would be better and that he might support amending other legislation to achieve this.
Other committee members said they felt the state already adequately tracks that information.
Rep. Donald Ardell, R-Monticello, said at Friday’s meeting that the legislation had “the ability to politicize crime.” Rep. Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, questioned the ability of state leaders to classify certain groups as violent extremists and that leaving that up to law enforcement officials seemed “ineffective.”
“I think we’re doing a good job the way we’re doing,” Ardell said.
Rep. Rep. Nina Milliken, D-Blue Hill, was the only committee member to vote against saying the recommendation should not pass. The bill was supported by the Department of Public Safety.
“Reporting to this committee and developing minimum standards for domestic terrorist threat training and communication while protecting the integrity of all individuals or investigations makes common sense,” Jack Peck, assistant director of the Criminal Justice Academy, said in written testimony.
The US Government Accountability Office warned in March that domestic terrorism is on the rise, pointing to racially motivated shootings that killed 10 people in Buffalo in May 2022 and a shooting that killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
Between 2010 and 2021, there were 231 domestic terrorist incidents, with around 35% motivated by race or ethnicity.
“These attacks were also the most lethal,” the GAO said. “Anti-government or anti-authority motivated violent extremism was the second largest category of incidents and resulted in 15 deaths during the same period.”
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