SKOWHEGAN — Thunder boomed just around noon Sunday as protesters assembled on the Margaret Chase Smith bridge in Skowhegan to oppose the bigotry that led to deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, a day earlier.

Then the rain came in waves off the Kennebec River. Heavy rain.

The rain stopped, but the protesters didn’t. The group emerged from their vans and cars with placards saying “Black Lives Matter,” “No to White Supremacy” and “R.I.P. Heather Heyer,” the 32-year-old woman who died after a car was driven through a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville.

“Her blood is on his hands,” Greg Williams of Farmington said of Heyer and the man later identified as the driver of the car. “It’s Nazis — it’s coming from Nazis. Every one of those guys, those alt-right nationalists and supremacists are the opposite of American patriotism. The absolute opposite. They are traitors to our Constitution.”

Heyer was killed and two police helicopter pilots also died in connection with marches by far right wing groups who had come to Charlottesville to rally against the removal of Confederate monuments. The groups chanted anti-Jewish, anti-immigration and anti-black slogans. The white nationalists and counterprotesters clashed in skirmishes prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency and the National Guard to join the police in clearing the area.

Lisa Savage, of Solon, who helped organize Sunday’s protest on the bridge, said President Donald Trump is an effect of bigotry in America, not the cause.

“The rise of the hate groups is also an effect of right wing propaganda stirring up discontented, underemployed people whose lives will not be better than those of their parents,” she said. “It’s an old strategy. Familiar.”

Savage said she doesn’t dehumanize those marching with tiki torches because everyone is confused at times about events in their lives. She said she thinks Charlottesville will be a turning point, when people who are on the fence will either have to stand up against racism, or “their silence will be fueling the kind of world that you saw in Charlottesville where the police stood back and the armed militia hurt people, killed people.”

Marnie Bottesch, of Norridgewock, emerged from her car when the rain stopped with a sign saying: “Demand Trump. Stop Hate. Talk.”

Bottesch said the groups in the “Unite the Right” gatherings were reminiscent of other groups that rose to power in the 1930s.

“That group is exactly like the Brown Shirts,” she said of the paramilitary organization whose violent intimidation played a role in Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany. “They are doing the same thing that the Brown Shirts did in Nazi Germany when Hitler was on his way up.”

She said the words and Tweets by Donald Trump encourage such activities and that the similarity to the Nazis is scary.

Dale Riddle, of Australia, who is visiting family in Maine, was on the bridge Sunday, too, and had a sign asking passersby to “stand with Charlottesville” and oppose racism.

“We don’t need any racism — it’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t want to mention Trump. He’s not helping.”

Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides,” without naming the white nationalist groups who sparked the fire in Charlottesville.

The Department of Justice announced that it was opening a civil rights investigation into “the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident,” to be conducted by the F.B.I., the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and the department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

U.S. Sen John McCain, R-Arizona, said Sunday that: “White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.”

A photographer reportedly saw James Alex Fields Jr., the alleged driver of the car that killed Heyer and injured 20 others, on Saturday, demonstrating with Vanguard America, a group that believes “a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notion of equality.”

Vanguard America denied any ties to him.

Back on the bridge, named for the late U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Skowhegan whose 1950 speech “Declaration of Conscience” stated the basic principles of “Americanism” and opposed the ongoing Communist witch hunt, artist Abby Shahn, of Solon, called the white supremacists copy cats.

“They are copy cat terrorists — they copied ISIS.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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