Most people were shocked when California Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for her followers to harass members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in public. In her rambling speech to a church audience, she said, “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

In the past, this type of “political militancy” by elected officials has been relatively rare in the U.S., and mostly reserved to radical extremists; unfortunately, that trend may be changing.

Across the country we are seeing more inflammatory political rhetoric that appears unchallenged, and it is helping to embolden groups that are regularly calling for violence. Previously peaceful organizations are stepping up calls for followers to perpetrate sit-ins, aggressive picketing and other disruptive interference, such as stopping traffic to garner attention.

As Mainers, we saw a version of political militancy when three state legislators — Deane Rykerson, Lydia Blume and Patty Hymanson — signed a letter asking Kittery Trading Post, one of Maine’s iconic outdoor businesses, to end the sale of so-called “assault-style weapons” and raise the age to buy long guns, currently 18, to 21.

So far, so good — they have that right.

But where they went off the rails is when they said, “or else.” According to the July 3 Press Herald article, “Three lawmakers ask Kittery Trading Post to stop selling assault-style rifles,” these three legislators were also part of the campaign to threaten Kittery Trading Post if they didn’t comply. The article went on, “Some of those pressing the store for a policy change mentioned a possible boycott until it agrees.”

For many reasons, these legislators and others at the national level, such as Maxine Waters, have stepped over a serious ethical line. As a past state senator and representative, I understand elected legislators have exceptional power to change laws that could negatively impact a business or organization they don’t agree with.

When three Maine lawmakers and their followers decided to target one company — instead of introducing a policy change through legislation that would have more rightly affected all similar Maine companies — they became political militants, not policymakers.

Singling out one company — a company that is abiding by all state and federal laws, and which is selling a product that for all intents and purposes another business across the street can sell — is arbitrary, and appears to be opportunistic election-year politics.

For elected officials, political militancy is a slippery slope that could undermine the appearance of fairness, and worse, bring discredit to their positions.

Skeptical? In just the last few years there have been countless accusations of elected officials misusing government power against U.S. citizens — the Internal Revenue Service, FBI and the CIA administrators, to name a few. The abuse is not limited to one political party or organization. Instead, like a poison, it seems to be spreading across the country, and it threatens to eat at the core of the public trust.

If political militancy becomes the norm, expect targeted groups and individuals to circle the wagons. Using the Kittery Trading Post case as an example, what if business groups and gun owners banded together to punish and target the legislators in question, their businesses or their employers? Having both sides go back and forth like that does nothing to solve our problems.

Of all the ways we make political change, political militancy is the most dangerous. The term itself has sprung from the work of violent militants and means “to serve as a soldier” in the name of a cause.

There are further consequences for elected leaders who follow the militant path. To be an elected leader is to accept responsibilities for followers and their actions; unfortunately, calls to inflict pain and suffering, whether physical or financial, can easily lead to unintended consequences.

To unleash unknown and loosely organized followers who abide by no rules of engagement or with no accountability, combined with the human ability to rationalize the most heinous of violent acts in the name of the cause, is dangerous and reckless.

Although this type of activism is part of our system, it must not become the system itself.

David Trahan is a resident of Waldoboro and a former state legislator.

 

(Editor’s note: Trahan is the executive director of the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of that organization.)

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