More Questions Than Answers On Portland Police Coddling Neo Nazis

Screengrab of white power salutes by neo Nazi group in front of Portland City Hall April 1, 2023
Source: NewsCenterMaine

Today I return to considering the ongoing controversy in Portland, Maine about flaccid police response to a neo Nazi group that assaulted several people on April 1. If local resistance to white supremacy and street violence is not of interest, maybe skip this one. (For background with links to video and eyewitness reports, check out my April 13 blog post on this topic.)

I’ve now had time to review the two hours of testimony from the public at the City Council meeting of April 10, followed by the self-congratulatory — and evasive — remarks of the interim police chief. Also the District Attorney’s public criticism of police inaction and suggestions for improvement in coordination with her office.

Here are some questions I still have:

Why do people with privilege think they are qualified to evaluate how safe or unsafe someone else without that privilege feels?

Why did the police department refuse to take statements from any of the victims who were assaulted by members of the neo Nazi group?

Why did the police appear to order the neo Nazi group to kneel briefly on the sidewalk in front of City Hall?

Why did one officer appear to pull a gun on the group, and what kind of gun was it?

Were the neo Nazi group members carrying guns, as some have alleged?

Why did the police appear to signal to the neo Nazi group that they could depart without being questioned, identified, or charged for the assaults?

When will the police release body cam footage of the incident, and when will the city release surveillance camera footage from Monument Square and City Hall?

When the police say they couldn’t tell “who started it” in reference to one of the physical attacks they witnessed, why does this matter? (I’ve never been a cop but being a teacher on playground duty I often confronted this issue and resolved it by enforcing the consequences for physical violence no matter who started it.)

Were the neo Nazi group members federal agents, as some on social media have suggested? If so, did they coordinate in advance with the Portland police? 

Did the police have snipers on nearby rooftops as they did during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020?

What are the likely consequences of showing a neo Nazi group that their presence will be, not just tolerated, but protected in the City of Portland?

What are the likely consequences for tourism, a major revenue source for both Portland and Maine?

How true is the claim that the culture of Portland attracting 5.4 million visitors a year was largely created by LGBTQ and/or people of color? In other words, the very groups targeted with shouted slurs and physical attacks by the neo Nazi group on April 10?

What role does the long history of white supremacist violence in Portland have in informing our understanding of what happened this month?

What role does Portland’s recent history of welcoming immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are Black, have in drawing neo Nazis to Maine?

Screengrab of the first stop by the neo Nazi group, followed by them assaulting individuals in Monument Square and in front of Portland City Hall on April 1, 2023 Source: NewsCenterMaine

Councilor Andrew Zarro expressed my sentiments when he said on April 10 :

“I feel like I have more questions ending this evening’s public comment than I did going into it…

What is the next step? How are we going to show the community what the next step on this is?”

Can You Support Nazis Over There But Fight Them Over Here?

Video source: NewsCenterMaine

Portland, Maine’s largest city, is in turmoil about the lack of response from the city and its police force to a neo Nazi group attacking counter protestors on April 1. This occurred on the steps of City Hall and was amply documented and reported in mainstream media herehere, and here

The police showed up but allowed the masked group to maintain their anonymity and to disperse without being questioned or having charges filed.

I should explain that Portland is not my home but it’s where several people I love call home. Some of them are little kids who attend the public schools alongside students of many ethnicities and races. They tell me they don’t like people “being mean” to (i.e. threatening the physical safety of) the Black city councilor who represents their part of Portland. So, I have a stake in the safety of Portland. 

My husband and I at an anti-racist rally in February. Source: Southern Maine for Racial Justice tweet

The safety of people of color, along with LGBTQ+ people and people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, are at risk when neo Nazis show up shouting the racist N word, the homophobic F word, and knocking to the pavement people holding a gay pride banner.

From coverage by the Portland Phoenix:

..Leo Hilton, a Portland resident who said he was one of four people who were attacked by Neo-Nazis outside City Hall on April 1.

As Hilton and others at the event described, police officers let the bad actors go without even asking for identification. A spokesperson for the police department said that none of the members of the group were identified on scene, and “none have officially been identified at this point.”..

According to Hilton, the assault occurred on April 1 when he and three others held up a pride flag, and the protesters — who were all masked — tried to tear the flag out of their hands. One member of Hilton’s group was then punched, and Hilton was thrown to the ground.

“They knew they could hit us and get away with it,” Hilton said.

I host a monthly community tv show with Portland City Councilors Victoria Pelletier and Roberto Rodriguez. How the institutions of local government uphold white supremacy is a topic we’ve addressed a few times, most recently in February which show you can view here or listen to as a podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Since that show, recruiting for neo Nazi and other white rights groups has popped up all over town. Several public demonstrations about white victimhood have been organized, drawing their own counter demonstrations. And Monday night’s city council meeting drew at least a hundred protesters demanding that the city and the police walk the walk rather than just talk the talk of making Portland safe for everyone. 

(I’ve been trying to listen to the whole meeting as a zoom recording but the playback is so choppy I gave up. Any readers with tech hints on how I can solve this problem, please post in the comments. Here’s a link to the page listing the recording of the April 10 city council meeting with two hours of testimony from the public.)

I’m starting to think that my most useful contribution to political conversations is examining the conundrum of false dichotomy thinking. 

The inherent contradiction of U.S.ians who want to fight neo Nazis over here but support neo Nazis over there is emerging in the state I call home. 

To have this discussion we need to address the question: How could Ukraine be run by neo Nazis if its president is Jewish? Investigative journalist Aaron Maté (also Jewish, for what it’s worth) addressed this when he wrote last year about the threats and intimidation President Zelensky received to prevent his implementing the peace platform he ran on.

The U.S. government has forced taxpayers to send over $100 billion to Ukraine’s neo Nazi aligned government and for the most part both Democrats and Republicans have supported this. But Democrats would be the first to denounce hate crimes like attacking people for being openly gay. 

Then there are the fragile white rights folks in Maine who say they oppose the war but also say they oppose the city providing services to Black asylum seekers rather than services to white homeless people. They also publicly oppose the notion that Black Lives Matter, countering it with the message “It’s OK to be white.” Councilor Pelletier drew threats of violence back in February when she responded on social media, “When has it not been ok to be white in this country?”

One of the white rights activists posted this mini-manifesto to explain:

This same activist retweets videos glorifying violence, for example, hitting “commies” in the head with a frying pan.

All the false dichotomy ideologies aside, there are economic facts. White people own the vast majority of the wealth in the U.S. by any measure, while neo Nazis in Ukraine become wealthy on hundred of billions provided with no accountability for how it is spent.

The reason that Democrats in the U.S. have become so confused at this point in history is that they fell for the falsehood that the Russia’s President Putin is “Hitler.” This was a natural outgrowth of their conflation of our 45th president and his outspoken white supremacist beliefs with Putin, a descendant of those who literally defeated Hitler in WWII. Many Dems still cling the belief that Russia interfered in 2016 to get Trump elected, even though this has by now been thoroughly debunked by investigative journalists. And when Democrats stay in the echo chamber of corporate media that serves government interests, they don’t have enough real information to draw useful conclusions.

If you agree with me that neo Nazis cross a legal line shouting insults that are followed by assault, it may be time to abandon false dichotomy thinking. I’ve criticized Democrats here, but that doesn’t make me a Republican. I’ve also criticized Ukraine here, but that doesn’t make me a spokesperson for Putin despite being accused of this almost constantly over the past year.

Protest organized by a statewide coalition on March 18 in Westbrook that drew 50 people (photo credit: Mary Beth Sullivan)

I’ll be out again this Saturday April 15, “tax day.” People from many political parties and tendencies will be with me in Topsham at the corner of Routes 196 and 201 from 1:30pm. Join us to uphold our coalition demands:

  • Peace in Ukraine – No weapons, no money for the Ukraine War
  • Abolish NATO – End U.S. militarism & sanctions!
  • Fund people’s needs, not the war machine!
  • No war with China!
  • Protect Earth’s environment from the deadly insult of war!
  • End U.S. aid to racist apartheid Israel!
  • Fight racism & bigotry not war!
  • U.S. hands off Haiti!
  • End AFRICOM!