A Lewiston police officer takes down a sign bearing a neo-Nazi slogan posted Sunday near the Bates College campus in Lewiston. Sun Journal staff photo

LEWISTON — Signs popped up around the Bates College campus Sunday reading “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE,” a slogan devised almost two decades by neo-Nazis.

Several signs bearing a neo-Nazi slogan were posted Sunday near the Bates College campus in Lewiston. One officer said somebody was putting the signs up faster than police could take them down. Sun Journal staff photo

For some people, such signs are a trolling operation designed to stir up racial fears with a seemingly antiseptic assertion.

The slogans have been posted at a number of colleges and universities over the years, with some people reacting with disgust and others dismissing the signs as harmless.

Walter Washington, student president at Bates, initially reported an 8 1/2-by-11-inch sign to the Lewiston Police Department and Bates’ security director at about 11:30 a.m.

Washington said he received a telephone call from another student Sunday morning alerting him to a sign posted on a utility pole near the campus bookstore.

Lewiston police said they had a couple of reports questioning the signs, which officers removed Sunday afternoon because they were attached to utility poles, which the law prohibits.

“The sign itself is ‘dog whistle’ stuff. It’s an old, white supremacist slogan, so it’s not as jarring as something else,” Washington said. “The thing the cop said to me is it’s not a crime because of the language, it’s a crime because of the city ordinance.”

The exact number of signs that were put up was not known late Sunday. One officer said somebody was putting them up as fast as police could take them down. Washington, however, said he only knew of one sign.

“It was around 12:30 (p.m.) that they (police) called me back, and I’m not sure if anything has happened since then,” Washington said late Sunday.

Sean T. Findlen, chief communications officer for Bates College, wrote in an email Sunday that Bates was working with the Lewiston Police Department to investigate the signs.

“We condemn any attempt to incite hatred and bigotry based on race, as contrary to Bates’ most deeply held values,” Findlen wrote.

Some professors and students at Bates said the signs were intimidating, especially in the wake of a massacre Friday of Muslims by a white supremacist in New Zealand.

Washington said he had spoken to the entire student government about the signs, and the signs were met with universal disgust. He said it was disappointing to see the signs in Bates’ diverse community.

“As a person of color, it’s straight-up disheartening and disappointing in 2019 that’s what someone has to wake up to,” Washington said.

“It’s indicative of where we are and how far we have to go as a society. As far as our campus is concerned, it’s deplorable, disgusting and intolerable, and it has no place in or around this campus.”

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