If and when there’s ever another COVID-19 stimulus bill, the part providing relief for municipal governments should include a special allotment for the tiny town of Harrison.

Call it “harassment compensation.”

That’s as kind a description as there is for what happened on Sept. 29, when a trio of troublemakers, operating under the name “Hoosier News Now,” waltzed into the Harrison Municipal Offices with video cameras rolling and jumbo-size chips on their shoulders.

Their goal, as stated on the Indiana-based Hoosier News Now’s YouTube page: “We are committed to shedding light on government misconduct to expose the employees responsible and hold them accountable.”

In reality, though, they specialize in being pains in the derriere.

Why they came to Harrison, a picturesque hamlet of 2,800 on Long Lake just east of Bridgton, is not clear. But in their 25-minute video titled “Insane! Chaos in Harrison Maine,” the three unidentified crusaders turn a peaceful day at the town office into a self-serving spectacle of epic (at least in their minds) proportions.

There’s pushing and shoving. There’s enough misquoted law to make Judge Jeanine Pirro’s head spin. There’s even an apparently loaded handgun strapped to one rabble-rouser’s waist – a discomforting prop in a setting where tempers are guaranteed to flare.

The video begins peacefully enough. The three men enter the municipal building with cameras rolling, despite a sign at the entrance stating that videotaping inside the building is prohibited. They ask to see the town manager and are told he is out.

So, disregarding the no-loitering sign, they loiter. They wander around with their cameras throughout the building, which is limited to three visitors at a time because of the pandemic, recording everything in sight. Of particular interest to one is a large poster-map titled “Earthquakes in Maine.”

One cameraman complains to a male town employee behind the counter that the prohibition on video recording inside violates the U.S. Constitution.

“The lawyers told us to put it up,” the employee explains. “We just do what we’re told.”

“Oh, you’re a bootlicker!” the shooter of the online video retorts. “So, you do what you’re told. Follow the lawyers!”

“No,” the man responds patiently. “I’m just an employee of the town who does what I’m asked to do.”

And so it goes. For 20 painfully long minutes, calm statements from the town staff are instantly inflated into pseudo-provocations. And when a member of the fire department arrives and attempts to escort the guy with the gun out of the building, a shoving match ensues and suddenly one of the other intruders – this one with a newly installed pacemaker – starts complaining that he’s having trouble breathing.

Enter the police.

Deputies from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office arrive first, followed by Bridgton Police Chief Phil Jones and one of his officers. What follows is a study in calm, professional law enforcement. If police academies ever need a training video showing rookie law enforcement officers how to handle the unhinged, this should be it.

“They started it! They started it! De-escalate!” hollers one of the provocateurs to the officers, pointing over the counter at the town employees.

A deputy approaches one of the men and asks courteously, “What was the purpose of all this? Why was everybody here?”

“Post COVID, right?” the man replies. “It’s public interest to see how towns are operating, getting back into the swing of things. So we came in here, asking if the town manager was available to answer questions. He was not. Then we continued to report.”

Meanwhile, one of the other video guys, already convinced the police won’t do anything, tries to execute a citizen’s arrest against the off-camera fire official. “You have the right to remain silent,” he proclaims in a raised voice. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney …”

Chief Jones, cool as a cucumber, asks the three men to step outside so he can get their statements.

“We’re disinclined to acquiesce to your request!” one announces.

Yet, when one instigator points out that another served for 28 years as a firefighter, Chief Jones turns to the man and, without missing a beat, says “Thank you for your service.”

Another deputy, asked if the fire official has been placed under arrest yet, tells his inquisitor, “No. Not as of right now.” Then he grins.

“Why are you smiling?” one of the men demands.

“I’m just trying to be friendly,” replies the deputy.

“Do you think that’s funny? Choose your words wisely, because I can have a million people see them by tomorrow!”

“That’s fine.”

“So why were you smiling?”

“We’re conducting an investigation.”

“Why did you smile?”

“Because I’m being friendly.”

The visitors talk of assault and battery, even though there’s no such crime in Maine’s criminal code. They talk of written trespass orders – at one point, one of them actually asks for one. Replies a deputy, “You won’t give me your name, so …”

In the end, the men mercifully leave the building, their reservoirs of anti-government grievance sufficiently filled for the day. There are no arrests, no apparent injuries and no idea why a self-proclaimed “news” organization from Indiana would come all the way to Maine to see how one town is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

As first reported by the Bridgton News, Harrison Board of Selectman Chairman Matthew Frank later issued a statement explaining to local citizens that “members of a nationwide activist group entered the Town Office to disrupt business.”

The incident, Frank said, forced the town to temporarily revert to appointment-only transactions “out of an abundance of caution because of the unknown potential of COVID-19 risk. The office has since been cleaned and re-opened to full status. We have no further comment at this time.”

Meanwhile, the investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office goes on. According to the local newspaper, the town will seek a trespass order against the three men at a hearing in Bridgton District Court on Nov. 4.

Last week, I emailed Hoosier News Now to ask for an interview. I said I wanted to learn more about who they are and what brought them to Maine. (I also was curious about why they were so instantly hostile to people who spend their workdays serving their community, not turning it into a three-ring circus.)

After several go-rounds on email with someone who identified himself as “NHH” – he wanted to know if  I was “truly about journalism and want to do a great service for your community by exposing these tyrants” – I was given a phone number with an Indianapolis area code.

Tuesday morning, I called. No answer. I left a message. No further response.

I guess they’re disinclined to acquiesce to my request.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: