Maine Capitol Police Chief Russ Gauvin did the right thing by apologizing for the social media posts, comments and reactions that support far-right conspiracy theories, including a baseless fiction that widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2020 election.

Russell Gauvin, photographed shortly after he was hired as Capitol Police chief in 2006. Photo from Capitol Police Maine Facebook page

Now he has taken responsibility for his actions, he should do one more thing: Resign.

Mainers should not have to wonder whether the person in charge of security at the State House is an ally of the kind of groups that overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. After witnessing how easily lies about election integrity turned to mob violence, we should not accept their dissemination by people like Gauvin, who is in a position of public trust.

Gauvin’s social media activities were discovered by reporters at Mainer, an alternative monthly magazine. They found that Gauvin regularly took positions popular on the far right, including posts and articles questioning the use of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Mills issued an emergency order requiring people to wear masks in public places, including the State House, which Gauvin’s department is supposed to patrol.

More troubling is Gauvin’s support for the notion that the presidential election was not decided fairly. On Nov. 7, Gauvin posted that he had “zero confidence in the reported results.” He also linked to an editorial in Law Enforcement Today, which claimed that Democrats had used the coronavirus pandemic to steal the election by stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent mail-in votes.

This is just not true. Elections were held in all 50 states, and the process was closely observed by both parties. The results were certified by state canvassing boards and disputes were presented to state and federal courts. Although alarming claims have been made on right-wing media, no evidence was presented in any court that warranted further litigation.

That hasn’t stopped Trump supporters from repeating the false claims about the integrity of the election, undermining confidence in democracy itself. Hundreds of insurgents felt that their belief in the election fraud conspiracy theory was justification enough for breaking down the doors of the U.S. Capitol, with the intention of overturning the election results.

Gauvin has a First Amendment right to speak his mind, but he does not have a right to a government job. Those positions should go only to people who respect the democratic process and don’t try to undermine elections. You can’t be a government employee and spread anti-government sentiment at the same time. This is especially true for police officers, who have an obligation to stay out of politics. No matter where they fit on the political spectrum, Mainers who come to the State House need to believe the police on duty are politically neutral.

Gauvin’s social media activity is under investigation by his boss, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck. But before Sauschuck makes a decision, Gauvin should do a service to the state and step down.

His resignation would send a message that words have consequences. It would remind everyone that real harm can result from spreading made-up stories. And it would send a powerful message that even though we have a right to free speech, we all need to take responsibility for what we say.

Gauvin’s apology is a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly enough.


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