An event on Tuesday evening in Belfast showed how in Maine an association of COVID-19 denial and right-wing extremism has grown and gained legitimacy, with politicians adopting these ideologies.
The “Get up USA! Resurrection Tour ”, which stopped at the Crosby Center, was billed to 150 participants as an advertisement for“ Faith, Family and Freedom ”. Speakers included conspirator Robert David Steele, retired gynecologist Christiane Northrup of Yarmouth – who has become one of the country’s foremost spreaders of COVID-19 conspiracy theories – and Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association’s founder Richard Mack, the occurred via zoom.
Mack is a former Arizona sheriff who believes the county sheriff’s authority overrides federal law. Steele has spoken of his admiration for Holocaust deniers and adopted false theories, such as one that NASA runs a child slavery colony on Mars.
In addition, Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, spoke about the need for a “forensic review” of election results in Maine, leading to unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential race. Witnesses noted that at least two other Republican officials were present. One didn’t respond to a message on Wednesday and the other declined to comment.
Karyn Sporer, a University of Maine sociologist and senior investigator for the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center on Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology and Education, said the fact that politicians now believe such extremist views is “alarming”.
“Extremists always got a foothold in Maine, period,” Sporer said, citing the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The main difference between 10 years ago and now is that people feel encouraged to share racist or extremist thoughts.
“People are now cheering the politicians who say incredibly violent and hateful things,” she said. “The difference is the willingness of people to express their extremist and hateful ideologies.”
In Bangor, Beth Israel Congregation President Brian Kresge said Sampson’s presence at the Belfast event legitimized a group of people he described as “clearly violent”. The synagogue had asked her to retire before the event and said Steele was anti-Semitic.
A review of Steele’s blog reveals his affinity for QAnon, anti-vaccine misinformation, and ducklings about “globalists” and the World Health Organization. Steele also said he was a former CIA spy, a claim the secret service refused to confirm.
“Who is the company that Heidi Sampson owns?” Said Kresge. “That is encrypted anti-Semitism. They use weasel words, but it’s there and it’s growing. ”
Andy O’Brien, a freelance writer persecuting extremist groups in Maine, echoed Kresge and Sporer. While Tuesday’s event didn’t have avowed white supremacy spokesmen, it aimed to unite groups of people who may have different interests but similar distrusts of vaccines and government agencies.
“Anti-vaccination influencers like Christiane Northrup promoted the idea that somehow you can get a sheriff to refuse to enforce COVID protection and vaccine mandates,” said O’Brien. “So the anti-vaccine movement has begun to unite with the patriotic sheriff’s movement and get them to protect everyone from ‘unconstitutional’ laws like gun control.”
While ideologies can be extremist and hateful, Sporer said, they are not illegal.
“You can be whatever you want to be radical in your freedom of expression, your ideals and your perspective on life, and there is nothing illegal about that,” said Sporer. “However, if you turn to violence and stand up for it, it is against the law and you are not constitutionally protected.”
The mob that attacked the US Capitol on January 6th demonstrated “radicalization is turning into violence” [behavior] before our eyes, “said Sporer.
The fact that two Maine-linked people have so far been arrested for their alleged roles in the riot shows that radical ideologies can escalate into violence in Maine, she said.
One of the two Maine-linked men arrested, Kyle Fitzsimons, was open about his views of white supremacy long before allegedly cracking down on a number of police officers at the Capitol on two occasions. Tested before lawmakers in Augusta in April 2018, he said he had moved to Maine to escape “multicultural hellholes” and that lawmakers did nothing as immigrants to the area were “killing off Yankee New England culture.” it says in a press report from Die Zeit.
White supremacist groups have historically viewed Maine as a potentially fertile recruiting area due to its status as the whitest state and loose gun laws.
One of them, the former Jackman city manager, had founded a white separatist group called New Albion and advocated anti-Muslim and racist ideas. Tom Kawczynski said in 2018 that he moved partially to northern New England to maintain the region’s white majority.
New Albion is one of three hate groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Maine.
And last month, a Texan neo-Nazi said he and his followers wanted to move to Greater Bangor or north Maine to create an all-white ethnic state.
The Proud Boys also seem to be present in Maine. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled this group a hate group because of their anti-Muslim, misogynistic, and white nationalist views. The group was responsible for a number of violent street fights, and two of their national leaders led the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol in January. The Canadian government labeled it a terrorist organization the following month.
Earlier this month, Mainer magazine reported that a Portland Proud Boys chapter had claimed the local dive bar, Mathew’s Pub, as a hangout. A former Mathew bartender said the group presented themselves as a fraternal drinking club.
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