AUGUSTA — Ku Klux Klan fliers purporting to be for a “neighborhood watch” were found in driveways and on building porches on several streets of an Augusta neighborhood Monday morning, as well as in Gardiner and Freeport, prompting shock among residents and a local clergyman to draw a connection with the recent targeting of refugees.

Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire said residents of several streets, including multiple side streets off Townsend Road, as well as Washington Street and Northern Avenue, reported finding the fliers. Freeport residents also reported finding what appear to be the same fliers near their homes, and at least one flier was reportedly found in a mailbox in Gardiner.

The Augusta fliers are headlined, “Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” with a drawing of a hooded figure in a Klan robe flanked by “KKK,” with its letters in flames, on either side. It describes itself as “a movement of white people for the highest standards of western, Christian civilization.”

The Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of St. Michael Catholic Parish, which includes St. Augustine Church in Augusta’s Sand Hill neighborhood where several of the fliers were left, said the KKK does not speak for Christians, noting that Jesus Christ himself was a refugee. And, Morin noted, Catholics have previously faced attacks from the KKK.

Morin said the fliers are a sign of ignorance and prejudice, and he believes they were left where they were because the neighborhood has a number of refugees living there and was targeted by whoever left the fliers. He believes there is a connection between the fliers and the recent ban on accepting immigrants from seven countries where Muslims make up the majority of the population instituted recently under executive order by President Donald Trump.

“We’re in a place in society right now where powerful people are giving green lights to this sort of stuff,” Morin said Monday. “I would imagine it’s because this neighborhood is where a lot of refugee people are living now. President Trump’s quick decision to ban Muslims from seven countries shows a real lack of empathy. I do (see a connection). It is very sad that people are resurrecting these attempts at dividing people in our society.”

The KKK, a secretive society organized in the South after the Civil War to assert white supremacy, has a long history of violence against blacks, immigrants, Jews and other groups.

Tim Feeley, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said that while the views espoused by the KKK are abhorrent, the fliers alone don’t violate Maine’s Civil Rights Act.

The Klan once had about 20,000 members in Maine back in the 1920s, when chapters cropped up across the state largely in response to Irish and French-Canadian immigrants who were Roman Catholic, according to the Maine Historical Society. KKK members built large meeting halls in Portland and Bangor, and Klan activities were reported in local newspapers. By 1930, KKK membership in Maine had dwindled to about 225 members.

Today, there’s one Klan-related group in Maine, the Militant Knights Ku Klux Klan, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups nationally.

The fliers found in Augusta state: “Neighborhood Watch. You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake! Are there troubles in your neighborhood? Contact the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Today!”

It lists an 800 phone number. A greeting at that number states the organization is “unapologetically committed to the interests and values of the white race … white people will simply not buy the equality propaganda anymore.” It has options for callers to press a number to receive an information packet, to get a call back from a member, or to “check the status of your application.”

Gregoire said Augusta Police are looking into the matter, but it appears no crime occurred in the placement of the fliers other than littering. Gregoire said it did not appear whoever left the fliers was targeting a specific residence or group of people.

He said while some people might be concerned by the implications of the statement “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” he said, “This doesn’t appear to be any type of hateful speech or implied threat.”

“There is no crime, other than it could be littering, by leaving these in people’s driveways,” Gregoire said. “We’ve heard of these in other parts of the country. At times, an organization like that will do something like this. It has a tendency to attract attention.”

A Washington Street woman who declined to be identified said her husband saw one of the fliers when he was bringing their kids to their bus stop at the corner of Washington and Jefferson streets. The woman said she is African-American and her husband is from Puerto Rico. She said her husband saw other fliers left in the neighborhood. She said their young children did not see what was written on the fliers.

She said it is clear, from reading the fliers, that whoever left them wanted to send a message not of neighborhood protection but that people of color are not welcome, and they mean to try to run people of color out of town.

Morin said the statements in the flier “are instilling fear, saying we live in an unsafe world. We don’t need to be manipulating those fears any more.”

Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said police there received one report of a KKK flier in a mailbox on Libby Hill Road.

“That has no place in our community,” said Thom Harnett, mayor of Gardiner.

Jack May, of Freeport, said he discovered the same fliers, folded and wrapped in small plastic bags weighted with pebbles, had been tossed at the end of driveways and near mailboxes of about two dozen homes near his home on South Freeport Road.

“It’s really disturbing,” May said. “I’m not someone who does well with hate, and now I feel like hate is all around me.”

He said he reported the fliers to Freeport police at the urging of his neighbors, and police were later seen in his neighborhood.

Freeport Police Chief Susan Nourse said a police officer responded to the neighborhood and found about 20 of the bagged fliers along a 1.5-mile stretch of South Freeport Road.

“It looked very random,” Nourse said. “It didn’t seem to be that any one person was targeted.”

Nourse said distributing the flier doesn’t constitute a hate crime because it’s largely informational and so qualifies as protected free speech. She said she would report the incident to the state Attorney General’s Office to inform them, but her department would no longer be investigating unless someone reported being threatened directly by the group’s literature or members.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who lives on South Freeport Road, said she didn’t receive a flier at her home, but she found its wording threatening, not just to her neighbors, but to all Mainers. Even if the fliers are protected under the First Amendment, she said, Mainers need to reject the sentiment of the flier and the KKK.

“It is really important for folks where these have been distributed or anywhere in the state to say, ‘Go away, we don’t want you in our neighborhood, you’re not welcome here,'” Gideon said. “What’s important is that we as Mainers, no matter where we live, are very clear that this is not representative of who we are and we are not interested and these people can go away.”

In November an Appleton woman reported finding a sandwich bag that contained a flier from the KKK in her driveway. A Knox County Sheriff’s deputy investigated that incident but determined no crime had been committed.

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj