Staff photo illustration by Brian Robitaille and Zack Aldrich; composite includes photo by Robitaille employing iPhone filter and Shutterstock vector image by grynold

Two dozen white men marched down Congress Street in Portland on a Saturday in April, dressed in a uniform of sorts. Khaki pants, black long-sleeve shirt or jacket, black baseball hat and mask pulled over the nose.

Along the way, they gave Nazi salutes and yelled racist and homophobic slurs at people. Upon arrival at City Hall, they unfurled a banner that read “Defend white communities.”

It was an alarming scene in the state’s largest and most diverse community, but it wasn’t unique. A similar demonstration occurred in Lewiston last October, and others have taken place in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island since last year, all carried out by a hate group known as NSC-131.

Less public instances of white nationalist, neo-Nazi and other extremist activity have occurred here in recent months, too. Racist literature has been sent to elected officials. Banners with racist language have been draped on highway overpasses. Not all of it is tied to NSC-131. Several groups are operating in this corner of the United States. In an increasingly polarized country, their members appear emboldened to bring their hate into public view.

Though hate groups are active in every state, Maine occupies a distinct place in the view of white nationalists. While the state’s demographics are shifting, it remains among the whitest in the country. One prominent neo-Nazi purchased land last year in a small town in northern Penobscot County and has stated on racist websites that he wants to recruit others to join him there. A thread on the website Gab, which is popular with white nationalists, allows followers to post land and property for sale in rural Maine.

What do they want? Some of them would like to rid the United States of anyone who doesn’t look like them. Others know that’s an unattainable goal, so they’ll settle for creating societies where they can exclude anyone who isn’t white. Some simply want to intimidate and harm others in the name of expressing their beliefs that whites are being oppressed.


Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, started researching the white nationalist movement 20 years ago, “when it was a small, angry corner of the internet.” Now, she said, the potential for groups to recruit new members, stoke fears and inspire violence has never been greater.

“We are in a dangerous moment,” she said.

A three-month investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram – involving interviews with historians and experts on white supremacy, nonprofits that track hate groups’ behavior, law enforcement officials and prosecutors, people who have been targeted by hate groups, and white nationalists themselves – reveals that:

All of the national, nongovernmental organizations that monitor white supremacist and extremist groups agree that activity by hate groups is on the rise and that New England is a hotbed. The Anti-Defamation League released a report in March showing white supremacist activity increased in just one year by 50% in Maine and 96% in New England overall.

Both law enforcement officials and white supremacists themselves believe the movement is gaining momentum. Police say it’s hard to quantify because an increase in public displays of racism doesn’t necessarily mean there are more racists. But those who are active in hate groups in Maine believe their message is reaching and recruiting more people, especially single men in their 20s and 30s.

White nationalism is not a monolith – its proponents differ in tactics and style – but one idea sits at its heart: Its adherents believe white people are losing their power and culture to diversity, and that the only way to save the white race is by growing their ranks and creating a white society.


Hate groups are seizing on broader grievances – including opposition to pandemic safety measures and to expanded rights for transgender people – as a means of recruitment, largely on the internet, where sites like Gab and Telegram have helped hate to metastasize.

Although Maine has seen little violence, the risk is constant. Several mass shooters in recent years – such as a teenager who killed 10 Black people in Buffalo last year and a 21-year-old who murdered 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 – have been inspired by racism. White nationalists who are active in Maine told the Press Herald they don’t want violence but said they think it’s coming.

Prosecutors say the First Amendment limits how much they can track or go after individuals or groups. As a result, some people think law enforcement isn’t taking the movement seriously enough.

Kris Goldsmith, an Army veteran who founded Task Force Butler, a Delaware nonprofit that researches and infiltrates hate groups to provide intelligence to law enforcement agencies, said he understands that people might be reluctant to pay much attention to a small but vocal minority at the risk of amplifying their views. But he cautioned against ignoring them.

“This stuff is extremely serious, and the time to stomp it out is now before it gets any bigger,” he said.

Nonwhite residents of Maine told the Press Herald they feel the same way.


Ryan Adams, a Portland artist who is Black, said he’s noticed more outward displays of racism lately. He said it doesn’t shock him that it’s happening in an overwhelmingly white state.

“I know they exist,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with them all my life.”

Adams and his wife, Rachel, who also is Black, were in Portland on April 1 when the NSC-131 members marched down Congress Street. The two were running errands in different spots downtown, and he remembers messaging her to say: Don’t walk down Congress alone.

Ignoring displays of racism is a choice open only to some, he said.

“I don’t have that option,” Adams said. “We don’t have the option to sit it out. Just existing puts us in danger.”

White nationalist demonstrators at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where they clashed with counterdemonstrators. The rally galvanized the movement, bringing together many hate groups in one place. Law enforcement officials and white nationalists themselves believe the movement is gaining momentum. Steve Helber/Associated Press



The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 galvanized the white nationalism movement, bringing together many hate groups in one place. But the roots go deeper. Racist groups are as old as our country itself.

In the latter half of the 20th century and into this century, they have been fractured and largely out of the public sphere. But that’s changing. Todd Little-Siebold, a professor at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor who teaches the history of racism, said he’s surprised how quickly it has become palatable to associate with hate groups.

“The stigma of being openly racist has certainly declined,” he said. “Now people are shouting it from the rooftops.”

Many of those who attended the Charlottesville rally talked openly of their support for former President Donald Trump, who had a history of making racist comments long before he became president and ramped it up once he took office. Trump’s refusal to denounce that event – he famously referred to actions on “both sides” – was seen as tacit approval of white nationalists.

One of the most active white nationalist groups in New England, Patriot Front, formed in the wake of Charlottesville.

“For a long time, they were creating alternate spaces online and small-scale organizing,” Bjork-James said. “What Trump gave them was a broader audience.”


The overlap between white nationalist ideology and some high-profile voices in the far-right conservative movement has been growing. Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who lives part time in western Maine, is among the biggest amplifiers of white grievance. He regularly pushes the so-called Great Replacement Theory – a myth that a small group of elites, often characterized as Jews, is trying to replace white people in their own countries with immigrants. In online forums popular with white nationalists, Carlson is cited often and with reverence.

“Tucker Carlson, they see him as their guy,” said Jeff Tischauser, a senior researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

White nationalist sentiment also rose sharply in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and groups have increasingly aligned themselves with other causes, often ones that are prominent in the far-right media. Patriot Front members have marched in anti-abortion demonstrations. Members of NSC-131 joined conservative parents at a school board meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire, to protest masks and vaccines during the pandemic.

“If their message is ‘white people are superior,’ the pool is smaller. So, they look for on-ramps to recruitment,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher with the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project.

All the metrics used to track hate groups suggest there is more activity in Maine and across the country. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks white supremacist propaganda incidents (public demonstrations, banner drops, hate-based graffiti) has noted a dramatic increase over the last five years, from 1,214 incidents in 2018 across the country to 6,751 in 2022. In New England (excluding Connecticut), the number increased from 69 to 951 in that time.

Although the numbers in Maine remain small, they are increasing as well, from 13 in 2018 to 30 in 2022.


“We are seeing a real uptick in organized gatherings and protests … and a greater number of people who come to them,” said Peggy Shukur, interim regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked more than 1,200 hate groups in 2022 alone, including nine active in Maine. Tischauser said researchers have identified 81 incidents in Maine since 2018 in which individuals or groups received racist flyers. Most occurred in 2021 and 2022.

“They are more comfortable displaying views publicly … and they are more hostile and aggressive in the tactics they use to recruit and circulate their message,” he said. Hate crimes are rising, too. In 2020, the FBI tracked 8,263 incidents in the U.S., the most in two decades. An estimated 62% were related to race. The number dropped to 7,287 in 2021, but that was still well above average. Data for 2022 has not been released.

Maine reported 83 hate crimes in 2020 and 75 in 2021. Roughly half were race-related. In the 10 years prior, there were never more than 61 hate crimes, and the annual average was just 37.

Kristen Setera, an FBI spokesperson, said the top domestic terrorism threat now is “violent extremists we categorize as racially or ethnically motivated and anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists.”

In February, demonstrators led by Richard Ward, pictured in the green jacket on the left, a Portland resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last fall, display a banner reading “It’s OK to be white” in Congress Square, where they were met by counterprotesters. Video by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer



Maine’s record on race is often sanitized by historians. When people read about Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain fighting for the North, they miss the fact that much of Maine didn’t care about freedom for Blacks, said Little-Siebold, the College of the Atlantic professor. When Ralph Brewster was elected governor in 1924, it was largely due to support from members of the Ku Klux Klan. And the state’s historical treatment of Indigenous people can only be described as racist, Little-Siebold added.

The latest wave of white nationalism is fueled by the political landscape, which has grown bitterly divided, he said.

“It’s not unreasonable for rural Mainers to have a sense of grievance, a feeling that they have been left behind, that their livelihood and their jobs have disappeared,” Little-Siebold said. “And the white nationalist movement will stoke that grievance, especially around politics of public support. They thrive in an environment where they can blame other people.”

Rural areas are seen as fertile ground for white nationalism. They tend to be more conservative, less trusting of government and white, said Fisher-Birch with the Counter Extremism Project.

“Maine is attractive for a number of different reasons. It has the largest percentage of people who identify only as white. That’s a big point for these groups,” he said. “But because it has many parts that are so rural, they see opportunity in building community, living off the land and off the grid.”

Tom Kawczynski, originally from Pennsylvania, was fired as Jackman’s town manager after it was revealed that he wanted to create a white ethnostate in Maine called New Albion. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Consider Tom Kawczynski. He was hired as town manager in Jackman in Somerset County in 2018 but was soon outed by local journalists as a white nationalist who posted regularly about wanting to build a white ethnostate in Maine. He even had a name for it: New Albion.


Kawczynski, originally from Pennsylvania, was fired after eight months, but he’s still in Maine. During the pandemic, he rebranded himself as a COVID-19 expert with a podcast that pushed conspiracy theories about masks and vaccines. He has started a ministry in Eagle Lake in Aroostook County.

Another transplanted rural Maine resident, Dushko Vulchev, 45, of Houlton, was charged in April 2021 with federal hate crimes for setting fire to a predominantly Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts. According to court documents, investigators found evidence of hatred toward Black people on Vulchev’s computer, including a message saying he wanted to “eliminate all (Black people).”

Vulchev, a Bulgarian national who has been living in Maine at least since 2015, awaits trial. No evidence has surfaced that Vulchev was aligned with any established group.

Another Mainer who has pushed white nationalist views, Kyle Fitzsimons of Lebanon, was convicted of assault in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Many hate groups have been linked to that insurrection.

Fitzsimons lived in Lebanon and worked at a supermarket. There is no evidence linking him to any hate groups, but he has espoused racist views and bought into mainstreamed conspiracy theories. He spoke at a legislative hearing in 2018 on a bill to fund a job-training and education center in Lewiston for the city’s immigrant population, most of whom came from Africa.

“We are being replaced,” Fitzsimons told lawmakers in a three-minute tirade, during which he accused legislators of practicing “euthanasia” on senior citizens and ignoring an opioid crisis.


Richard Ward, a Portland resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2022, has been pushing racist views in public. He has stood several times on Congress Street with an “It’s OK to be white” sign and told police he was punched by a counterprotester once. He also has targeted House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, who is Black, in social media posts.

Members of the hate group NSC-131 (NSC stands for “Nationalist Social Club,” and 131 is code for “anti-communist action”) demonstrate in front of Portland City Hall in April after marching along Congress Street. Image from News Center Maine video


But it is the arrival in Maine of prominent neo-Nazi Christopher Pohlhaus that is most troubling, according to organizations that track hate groups.

Pohlhaus has a big following and has close ties to Chris Hood, the founder of NSC-131, although he is not considered a leader in that group. (NSC stands for “Nationalist Social Club,” and 131 is code for anti-communist action.)

Fisher-Birch, who tracks hate groups, said Pohlhaus has gained a measure of notoriety among white supremacists.

“Many are not accelerationists,” he said, referring to those who would use violence to achieve goals. “So, if they can live in a whites-only rural community and not deal with anyone else, that’s pretty close to what they want.”


Pohlhaus, however, has demonstrated at LGBTQ-friendly events in Ohio where performers dressed in drag. According to press accounts, at an event in March, he wore a firearm on his hip, waved a swastika flag and led chants of “Sieg heil!”

That’s just one example of racists growing more visible and comfortable expressing their views openly.

There were reports in 2021 that members of the Proud Boys, an extremist paramilitary group, had been meeting openly at a pub in downtown Portland.

In Kittery last July, a small group of NSC-131 members marched and held a sign that read “Keep New England White.”

Last October, a slightly larger group marched in Lewiston, which has been home for years to immigrants from Somalia. Pohlhaus was later identified as one of the marchers.

Members of NSC-131 showed up in Portland in April, marching down Congress Street to City Hall.


In mid-April and again in May, some Democratic lawmakers received mailers complaining about “anti-white policies and actions” and repeating the replacement myth.

Mana Abdi didn’t find out neo-Nazis had marched in Lewiston last fall until after it was over. She called her mother, who often walks in the park near City Hall, to warn her.

Abdi immigrated to the United States with her parents in 2009 when she was 13. Last year, she became the first Somali American elected to the Maine Legislature. Racism has been a part of her lived experience.

“When you are a woman, a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman, and also Black, your sensitivity is much more rooted,” she said. “But at any moment, harm can be done to someone who looks like me. The illusion of safety is not there for me.”

As a lawmaker, Abdi said she tries to “stretch as much sympathy” as she can to people who might have opposing views, but there are limits.

“It’s one thing to argue about the economy,” she said. “It’s quite different when you are trying to debate someone’s humanity.”


Route 2 in the Penobscot County town of Lincoln. Prominent neo-Nazi Christopher Pohlhaus, who bought land in neighboring Springfield, has been seen around town. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The white supremacist website Stormfront promises users a space where “Every month is White history month.” Across hundreds of thousands of forum threads, posters swap COVID-19 conspiracy theories, post links about minority-on-white crime, and share information about upcoming Klan gatherings. A “White singles” section offers dating tips for those seeking racist partners. A youth forum provides advice for members struggling through high school. “How do I convince my girlfriend to be a National Socialist?” one young user asks.

Since joining the website in 2008, Russell James of Machias has posted nearly 6,000 times, often seeking donations to support his passion project: the Aryan Archive, which he hopes to upgrade from an “electronic repository of pro-white resources” to a “full-blown online university.”

On the surface, James bears little resemblance to the swastika-wielding rabble-rousers who march through liberal cities, disrupt drag events and invite fistfights with counterprotesters. He presents himself as an intellectual willing to engage in polite debate. His homesteading blog includes a recipe for mead.

James rejects the labels “white supremacist” and “Nazi” and says he’s not a hateful person, but he does believe racial mixing weakens societies, that white men are more intelligent than other people, and that a group of Jewish elites controls most aspects of mainstream American culture. He acknowledges that he shares the same core beliefs as men like Pohlhaus: Success in America is a zero-sum game, and every victory for diversity is a defeat for white men.

“We live in an age of identity politics, and white people are the only group that are not allowed to form groups in order to get what they want out of society,” he said. While white people on the left have become more mindful about their own “privilege” in recent years, James believes whites are the truly oppressed group in the United States – a country they’ll lose control of if they don’t act soon.


Though he’s attended rallies and meetings for white nationalist groups in the past, James said those attention-grabbing tactics are largely ineffective and unnecessary in the age of the internet. He can easily share thousands of white supremacist readings and videos, while racist memes on Gab and 4chan serve as a gateway for younger audiences.

“A lot of it’s juvenile and intentionally so,” James said. “They’re trying to appeal to young people.”

Neo-Nazi Christopher Pohlhaus has purchased land in Maine. Image from Vice News video

Pohlhaus and his followers promote more aggressive tactics. They bring the swastika out in public for shock. They hope to “trigger” the left, which they claim includes news organizations. Their marches, Pohlhaus said, are an attempt to “throw bleach on a festering wound.”

But the goal is not just to spread chaos or fear, he said. Instead, Pohlhaus said, he tries to position himself as an alternative to progressive policies that he believes make average Americans uncomfortable. From the protests over the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota to COVID-19 mask mandates to trans-rights legislation, every recent push from the left has brought a surge of support for Pohlhaus, he said.

“As you guys move the goalpost away from normal thought, my market increases,” he said. “Traveling and talking to guys – I mean, normal people, man, not crazy Nazi types, not obsessed fanatics like us – normal dudes are just fed up.”

He cites a concept called the Overton window – the range of policies and ideas that society considers acceptable. That window can shift over time, as when support for gay marriage rights went from a fringe position to a prerequisite for Democratic politicians and even many Republicans in the span of a decade. But if the window shifts too far too fast, people can suddenly feel alienated, Pohlhaus said. He said that makes them susceptible to his pitch: Return to a time when things were whiter, straighter and more Christian. If you’re going to get called racist for making the same jokes you always have, if you’re going to get called transphobic for believing there are only two genders, then why not come be racist and transphobic with us?



Both James and Pohlhaus acknowledged that their movement is small. But while the number of people who will fly the Nazi flag or post on Stormfront is unlikely to grow significantly, both men said they’ve seen hints that mainstream conservatives are becoming more open to their goals.

“At least 50% of white people understand that something is very, very wrong,” James said. “They just can’t put their finger on it.”

Both men said they don’t want violence, and they said most in their movement don’t either, except for a few “drinking and daydreaming kids.” But they both said that unless ethnic groups segregate themselves, a race war is all but inevitable – and it will be driven by increasingly disaffected moderates.

Some members of these groups have been outed, but many remain anonymous.

A flyer warning residents about Andrew Hazelton, an NSC-131 member who was living in Portland. Staff photo by Matt Byrne

Andrew Hazelton, who lived in Portland, was a member of NSC-131 until he was charged with possession of child pornography. The group disavowed him after that. Hazelton declined to speak with the Press Herald through a prison official in Texas, where he is incarcerated.


Adam Stelmack also has been identified by Task Force Butler as an NSC-131 member who moved to Maine recently. He owns a drone videography business and lives in Augusta.

Reached by email, Stelmack did not deny involvement with NSC-131 but said he hadn’t spoken with anyone from the group in “about two years.”

“I don’t participate in any groups,” he wrote. “I just live my life, bro.”

One active group in Maine that hasn’t shown up in reporting by the Southern Poverty Law Center or Anti-Defamation League is the New England White Network, whose founder, Ryan Murdough, lives in New Hampshire and has been an open racist there for years.

Murdough’s Gab page is filled with vile posts that include racist, homophobic and antisemitic slurs. He posted a Press Herald story in May with the comment “Lewiston, Portland, Auburn and Sanford, Maine are being inundated with Africans. Which Maine town will be ruined by diversity next?” He linked to a story in the New York Post about a white man who choked a Black man to death on the subway in New York and wrote “give this man a medal.”

Murdough, who ran for the New Hampshire Legislature as a Republican in 2010 and lost, would not agree to a phone interview but did answer questions from the Press Herald over email. He said his goal is to speak out about what he calls the “anti white agenda.”


“Many people have a big misconception about who is a (white nationalist),” he wrote. “I can guarantee you that you have walked by or have met someone who holds pro-White viewpoints and you didn’t even know it. One of our goals is to get pro-White people into as many professional positions as possible so that we can grow our network across New England and ultimately preserve a future for our people.”

Murdough said the group’s Maine chapter is “very active.”

In the wake of the April 1 NSC-131 demonstration, Murdough sent an email to Portland City Councilor Victoria Pelletier, who is Black. The Press Herald obtained the email through a Freedom of Access Act request. (Pelletier declined to be interviewed for this story.)

“White nationalism is growing because white people are awakening to the rampant black violence and to the anti-white that comes from people like yourself,” Murdough wrote to Pelletier. He told her that his group was “only getting started.”

Asked what he meant by that, Murdough told the Press Herald: “I meant that white people have only begun to stand up for their own interests and that we are going to retake political control of our nation … Whites, for far too long, have sat and watched as our country becomes less White, less moral, less intelligent, and more dangerous by virtue of both illegal immigration as well as the coddling of ‘people of color’ that are given every advantage to better themselves and have every excuse made for them when they refuse to.”

Trees that were cleared are piled next to the driveway on neo-Nazi Christopher Pohlhaus’ land in Springfield. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer



Pohlhaus, the prominent white nationalist who has been involved in several hateful demonstrations, arrived last year in the tiny Penobscot County town of Springfield, whose population was 293 in the last census. He bought a 10-acre parcel there in March 2022 for $25,000. In the year prior, he had talked about building a whites-only compound and had been fundraising.

The previous owner, who lives in nearby Woodville and asked not to be identified because he doesn’t want to be associated with a neo-Nazi, said he didn’t know who Pohlhaus was until after the sale closed. “I don’t do background checks on people I sell to,” the man said. “He was just a guy on the internet.”

On a weekday in June when the Press Herald visited Springfield and neighboring Lincoln, many people said they are aware of Pohlhaus’ presence.

He was a member of a local gym before the owner asked him to leave. She would not discuss the circumstances with a reporter. 

He’s also been asked to leave The Forester Pub in Lincoln at least once for shouting at other patrons, according to staff there.

The owner of a tattoo parlor said Pohlhaus had inquired about a job as a tattoo artist there. “His work wasn’t very good, and I didn’t really need any help,” Damien Arthurs said.


At a pawn shop on Main Street in Lincoln, employees and customers looked at pictures of Pohlhaus and said he seemed familiar. At other businesses, people said the opposite. They would remember seeing someone with such a recognizable tattoo on his face.

At Smith’s General Store in Springfield, the employees said Pohlhaus is a regular but doesn’t interact much with anyone and often comes in alone.

Some in town said they have seen a flag with a swastika flying on Pohlhaus’ property, but it wasn’t visible when a reporter visited.

A man who lives across the street from Pohlhaus’ land said he hasn’t talked to him much. The land is being cleared of trees, but it doesn’t appear there are any structures there.

The neighbor – Aaron, who wouldn’t give his last name – said he was aware that Pohlhaus is a neo-Nazi but didn’t seem fazed by it.

“The funny thing is: He moved onto the only road in town with Black people living on it,” he said.


Smith’s General Store in Springfield, where employees say neo-Nazi Christopher Pohlhaus is a regular but doesn’t interact much with anyone. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


In Portland, outrage over the NSC-131 rally this spring has stemmed not only from the hateful messages of the marchers but also from what many saw as a lackluster response from police.

Three months after the scuffle in front of City Hall resulted in zero arrests, city and police department leadership have refused to share more information about the investigations into both the protesters and the department’s response. The city denied the Press Herald’s public records request for police body camera footage from the incident, citing the investigation.

“Maybe what I’m learning from this meeting is the city is not prepared and the council is not prepared to defend people like me,” resident Leo Hilton, who describes himself as queer, said at a City Council meeting in June, minutes before the body voted to discuss the police response to the rally behind closed doors.

A spokesperson for the Portland Police Department declined to answer questions about the case or say whether the department tracks white supremacist activity. But several law enforcement officials discussed the difficulty of holding hate groups accountable while at the same time defending constitutional rights.

The FBI’s Setera said the agency does not track membership in any group, nor does it investigate ideology.


“Membership in a group – no matter how offensive their views might be – is not illegal in and of itself. In fact, it is protected by the First Amendment,” she said. “The FBI predicates its investigations on behaviors, not beliefs. We investigate only when someone crosses the line from expressing beliefs to violating federal law, focusing on individuals who commit or intend to commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security.”

The number of instances that cross that line continue to be tiny, said Darcie McElwee, U.S. attorney for Maine. But while her office isn’t seeing an increase in prosecutions, McElwee said she is hearing more complaints from community members who feel unsafe, especially asylum seekers and other immigrants.

“My job in this position is to make every person who visits and lives in Maine feel safe every day, all the time,” she said. “And that is becoming more and more complicated.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Jacqueline Sartoris said that even since Trump left the White House, the political climate has continued to cause more friction between minority groups and reactionaries – usually white men – who fear they’re losing power. White supremacists, she said, are just one side of an authoritarian trend that stretches far beyond the United States.

“NSC coming to Maine should not have been a surprise to anybody,” she said. “It was certainly not a surprise to me.”

She warned that failing to stay on top of the issue could lead to a “significant act of violence in Maine.” But like other prosecutors, she said her office has a limited ability to track the activity of hate groups.


The Maine Information and Analysis Center, a division of Maine State Police, is aware that extremists pose a growing threat in and beyond Maine, Sgt. Matt Casavant said. He said the center reviews white supremacist events to help local law enforcement develop safety protocols, but it does not preemptively track hate groups.

The Press Herald tried for more than six weeks to interview Maine Public Safety leaders, including Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, about how the department handles the white supremacist threat, but these requests were denied or went unanswered.

Goldsmith said one of the reasons he founded Task Force Butler is to augment what police are doing – or not doing. He has compiled a lot of research on NSC-131, including tracking more than 20 public demonstrations in New England since Jan. 1, 2022, and linking the group to numerous other extremist groups, including Patriot Front, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and more.

The past military service of white nationalists like Pohlhaus, and many others who were tied to Jan. 6, is another reason Goldsmith launched Task Force Butler. He wanted to counteract the narrative that racism is common among veterans.

This spring, Task Force Butler produced a 300-page report on NSC-131’s recent activity. The goal, Goldsmith said, was to bring “actionable cases” to law enforcement in New England.

In one case, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office charged two members of NSC-131 with violating the state’s Civil Rights Act when they hung “Keep New England White” banners without a permit from a highway overpass last summer. But last month, a judge dismissed the complaints, saying that prosecutors’ interpretation of the act was overbroad.


Alison Parsons of Portland holds a sign as demonstrators fill both sides of Congress Street in response to an “It’s OK to be white” sign.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


As Maine communities cope with an increase in racist activity, the response has been inconsistent and often inadequate.

Sara Lennon, communications director at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, said it can be hard for people to speak out against racism or bigoted speech.

“But if we allow it to just become background noise, that’s when you get into trouble,” she said. “And I think that is a little where we’re going.”

“All of this ultimately leads to violence,” she continued, referring to the theory known as the Pyramid of Hate, which posits how mild stereotyping can lead to acts of bias, discrimination and eventually violence. The top of the pyramid is genocide, the systematic killing of an entire people, like the Holocaust. “These are all these things that come before actual speech or violence. And if these are tolerated or even vaguely ignored, that’s a problem.”

The responsibility for calling out hateful speech and actions lies not with one group but a whole community, Lennon said.


“I think we are teetering,” she said. “We’re perilously close.”

Reza Jalali, director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, said the NSC-131 members who marched on April 1 stopped in front of the center. It was closed at the time, but someone who lives in a nearby apartment took photographs. What if it had been open, he wonders?

“What concerns me of course is the safety of our clients and team members,” Jalali said. “It’s heartbreaking, too, because so many immigrants have escaped violence to come here. They are seeking safety here. So, to now be confronted with this? Even if it’s not the same type of violence, hate is hate.”

Reza Jalali, executive director of Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, says the rise in white nationalism makes him concerned about the safety of his clients. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jalali said he believes in free speech but also said authorities need to consider the impact of terrorizing a community.

“Normalizing this behavior is very dangerous. If the community isn’t forceful in identifying them and calling them out, they might be more likely to come back,” he said. “(Nazi) Germany didn’t start with gas chambers.”

Dustin Ward started a consulting firm in 2020 that advocates for racial equity and assists communities in starting conversations. He’s also a selectman in New Gloucester, the first Black elected official in the town’s history. He finds the increase in public displays of racism scary.


“I feel more targeted now than I ever did before,” he said.

So what’s the answer?

“You can’t ignore it … and you can’t counteract with the same hate. It can’t just be shouting,” he said. “You have to go above the rhetoric. Many communities have struggled with how to rise above that – they just don’t know.”

Ward said he believes police could be more forceful in protecting targeted groups from harassment and terrorizing, political leaders could advocate for tougher laws protecting victims of hate, and businesses owners could take stronger stands against racism.

Abdi Nor Iftin, a Somali American who came to Maine nine years ago, said he thinks things have gotten worse for Black people in that time.

“Above the surface, things seem better. There are more immigrants coming here, even getting elected to offices, but that has come with danger,” he said. “I think the other side has a feeling that the Black community is taking up their space.”


When Iftin saw reports of NSC-131 members marching through Portland and saw their “Defend white communities” sign, he was perplexed.

“There is nothing in the white community that needs defending,” he said. “It’s the other communities that are fighting so hard to make their place.”

The more he thought about that incident, though, the more Iftin was disappointed by the community response. No elected official stood up to condemn the demonstration. The police department didn’t put out any statement. Businesses were silent.

“This was an opportunity to protect the minority community, for a conversation to happen. I don’t see why it’s not seen as serious,” he said.

Three months later, Iftin said, the incident is mostly forgotten.

“What happens the next time they show up and the group is bigger?” he said. “Will the response be the same?”


Ryan Adams, the Portland artist, said white nationalists are cowards who need someone to blame for the things they don’t like about their lives. The response, he said, needs to be overwhelming and emphatic.

“It’s as simple as not allowing them to express their viewpoints comfortably in this space,” he said.

But it can’t be left to the Black community alone to call out public displays of hate, especially in Maine.

“There aren’t enough of us here,” Adams said.

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