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State Representative from Orono hosts listening session on the rise of white supremacist activity in Penobscot County

On Tuesday, Oct. 24, Maine State Representative Laurie Osher, PhD., invited community members to a listening session concerning the rise in white supremacist activity in Penobscot County. Osher is currently serving her second term in the Maine House and is a leader of the Jewish, LGBTQ+ and Progressive Women’s Caucasus.

Tuesday’s event, hosted at the Buchanan Alumni House, welcomed House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton as knowledgeable panelists.

Maine has experienced a rise in neo-Nazi and white supremacist activity, especially during the last year with the ongoing operation of a neo-Nazi training camp in Springfield, a rural town located in northern Penobscot County. Threatening activities and offensive rhetoric have led to many locals, particularly those in the county who are Black, Jewish, Muslim, immigrant and indigenous, feeling vulnerable in their communities, according to Osher’s event notice.

Osher noted, “Because the FBI has seen an increase in reported threats against Jews, Muslims and Arabs across the U.S. since the start of the Israel-Hamas War, we have several officers and officials stationed inside and outside the building.”

Sheriff Morton, in referencing the event’s heavy law enforcement presence, stated, “Things have changed, and we have to have open dialogues and be concerned for all…There’s a lot of law enforcement here today. It’s not just for security. It’s because they care and want to hear from those they represent. We care and we want to learn. To me, this is as much of a learning session as it is a listening session.”

Some community members in attendance expressed their concerns about law enforcement’s preparedness to act without bias so that targeted and vulnerable individuals feel they can approach officers as a positive, easily accessible resource.

In response to this, Speaker Ross explained, “Over the last 10 years, the state legislature has worked very hard, along with the attorney general’s office, in making sure that at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, where law enforcement is being trained, there are mandatory modules in place as part of their training that include issues around hate, violence, hate speech, bias, prejudice and racial profiling.”

Following this, attendee Jon Guzman questioned how well state officials have supported marginalized students up to this point. Guzman, a current student at the University of Maine and the Multicultural Advisory Chair of the university’s student government, said to the panelists, “I think the major concern is what are our representatives, and the people who are saying they are going to help us in any way they can, doing to show face? At the university level, that’s where the concentration of marginalized students are, and from speaking to students on a general basis, they feel as if they’re not being seen as it is…We want to see you show true commitment for us as a state, as individuals, as a community.”

Speaker Ross made it clear that Tuesday’s event should not be the only session offered as a safe space for those who are feeling at risk of hate-motivated conduct throughout the state to share their own concerns and perspectives. The House Speaker also encouraged students to contact their local officials and members of the Maine Legislature to organize future gatherings for students and others to come together and discuss ideas for aiding fellow community members who are feeling threatened by the rise in neo-Nazi and white supremacist rhetoric and activities.

“We are living in really difficult times, and what it requires is for us to have more conversations and more opportunities for us to get together…We are Mainers and we stick together…Maine has no place for this hate,” said Ross.

If you feel your civil rights have been violated, please call the Maine Attorney General’s office at (207) 626-8800 or dial 411 for directory assistance. If you have information about suspicious activity occurring within Penobscot County, please do not hesitate to call the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office at (207) 947-4585.

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