Lawmakers from both parties denounced the latest demonstration by a neo-Nazi group in Maine and called for legislation next session to make it harder for them to intimidate communities.

Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, said Saturday’s protest in Augusta by members of the hate group NSC-131 – the most recent public incident by a group that is active throughout New England – should serve as a call to action.

“I think we need to look at updating some of the laws we have to meet the challenges of today,” Baldacci said in an interview Monday.

Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, agreed that lawmakers should consider legislation that “threads the needle” between deterring hateful public gatherings and infringing on anyone’s 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

“The ironic thing is that they are enjoying the same rights they want to take away from others,” said Arata, the assistant Republican House leader. “We don’t want to make them into martyrs, but we have to at least acknowledge they are here, and they are not welcome.”

The next legislature doesn’t convene for months, and neither Baldacci nor Arata has proposed specific legislation. Any changes to state laws might be limited given that hateful demonstrations, in and of themselves, are not something the state can prohibit.


Roughly two dozen masked men dressed in a uniform of black shirts and khaki pants protested Saturday afternoon outside the State House and in front of the Blaine House, the governor’s mansion. Videos posted on social media showed participants chanting Nazi salutes and holding a banner that read “Keep New England White.”

Similar marches occurred in Portland in April and in Lewiston last October.

Some have identified one of the leaders at the Augusta march as Christopher Pohlhaus, a prominent neo-Nazi who bought land in the rural Maine town of Springfield last year and has been openly recruiting others to join him there.

Pohlhaus was featured in an investigation last month by the Press Herald about the increase in white nationalist and Neo-Nazi sentiment across the country and in New England, especially.

All of the national, nongovernmental organizations that monitor white supremacist and extremist groups agree that New England has become 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.

In recent years, 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.


Prior to Saturday’s demonstration, Pohlhaus had posted on one of his social media pages that a “protest needed to be organized” in response to a headline from the conservative news site The Maine Wire that read “Maine Governor Plots to resettle 75,000 foreign migrants in Maine by 2029.”

That story referenced a recent executive order from Gov. Janet Mills to create an Office of New Mainers to better respond to the growing number of immigrants who have settled here and to integrate them into the state’s workforce to help ease labor shortages.

Saturday’s protest appeared peaceful, according to both police and bystanders. But Baldacci said when demonstrators are targeting a specific group, or carrying weapons, that crosses the line into intimidation.

According to videos posted to social media, the demonstrators chanted “refugees, go home” as they passed the Blaine House.

“There is no home for white supremacy, antisemitism, or hate of any kind in Maine, and I stand with the overwhelming majority of Maine people who reject ideologies of hatred and intolerance and those who promote them,” Gov. Mills said in a statement from her office Monday. “Maine is a kind and welcoming place where we respect, cherish, and support one another.”

Augusta city officials echoed that sentiment.


“When I learned of the rally I was very distressed, disturbed by it,” Mayor Mark O’Brien said Monday. “It’s not reflective of community sentiment whatsoever. Augusta is a very welcoming community. I speak for the city council and citizens of Augusta in saying hate has no place here.”

At-Large City Councilor Abbie St. Valle denounced the demonstration on Facebook. “Our city is for those who seek community, and peace. Not for those that wish to tear us apart and thrive on hatred,” she wrote Sunday.

It doesn’t appear that any of Saturday’s demonstrators were displaying firearms, but Maine is an open carry state, which means individuals can have guns without a permit in most public areas. Augusta police were aware of Saturday’s protest but did not engage with any participants.

Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills said the group did not seek a permit for the demonstration, and that city rules did not require them to obtain one. Permits are required for gatherings of over 200 people or for marches of any size in city streets. The group remained on the sidewalks, which the chief said is allowed.

The mayor said he was unsure whether the city council would make any policy changes in response to the incident.

“I don’t know just yet, we haven’t talked about it as a council, as a whole” O’Brien said. “I met with the city manager and police chief today, and from a law enforcement perspective, they didn’t need a permit to gather, given the size, and no arrests were made – it appeared to be a lawful gathering, if you will. At this point, (I’m) not sure what a different response would look like, or what it would be. Nevertheless, it was very disconcerting to see here in Augusta.”


Baldacci said he already has spoken with Senate President Troy Jackson about starting a conversation that could lead to legislation next session. He said engaging with law enforcement personnel must be a part of that conversation.

“I think law enforcement has to make sure that people are not intimidated, and normal life can proceed,” he said.

Baldacci also said he thinks Maine should do more to prohibit militia-like activity or paramilitary training, something other states have done in recent years, including Vermont and Oregon.

Police officials and prosecutors who spoke with the Press Herald recently about the rise in hateful demonstrations were largely deferential and spoke of the challenges in going after hate speech, which is largely protected unless it involves direct and specific threats or provokes violence or harassment.

Darcie McElwee, U.S. attorney for Maine, said last month that while her office isn’t seeing an increase in prosecutions, 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.”


Others say any apathy is dangerous and allows groups to become more emboldened. The biggest concern is that these demonstration will lead to violence.

“You need to keep speaking out,” Baldacci said. “The only way to push back is to show them that you are stronger.”

Arata, who wrote a letter to the editor in the Press Herald following last month’s investigation on hate groups, said she’s been surprised at some of the response to her words.

“There were a lot of people who commented that some members of my party wouldn’t be happy with me speaking out. Nothing could be further from the truth,” she said. “I don’t know a single Republican who supports this. We’re all equally disgusted and I want to make sure that gets out there.”

Some influential Republicans, however, have not been as forceful in condemning white nationalism, while others have actively courted support from hate-based groups.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland also denounced Saturday’s protest and the growing activity by hate groups in Maine.

“I cannot say this strongly enough: there needs to be zero tolerance for white nationalist groups’ behavior or intimidation,” she said in a statement Sunday. “The events that transpired yesterday are an ongoing escalation by a group that is seemingly emboldened, and we must call out their abhorrent beliefs and actions. As Speaker of the House, I will be relentless in driving a campaign against this racist behavior that has no place in Maine.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report. 

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