A Sabattus town official is under federal investigation and facing fierce criticism after he posted a message on Facebook calling for President Obama to be shot and referring to him with a racial slur.
David Marsters, 68, who is running for selectman, says he told Secret Service agents who questioned him Tuesday that he was not threatening the president when he posted the message at 8:17 p.m. Friday. It appeared above a picture of Obama and a link to a story about how some Republican lawmakers think the president deserves to be impeached.
The message said, “Shoot the …” and included a racial slur.
“I think it’s a lot of hogwash,” Marsters said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I did not threaten the president. … I might have used the wrong words. … I didn’t say I was going to do it.”
He said his post was taken out of context.
“What I really meant to say is, ‘When are we going to get rid of this (expletive),'” he said. “I should have said, ‘I hope the bastard dies.'”
Marsters said that after his Facebook post drew public scrutiny, he was visited by local law enforcement officers, the Secret Service and CIA agents. Marsters said a Secret Service agent told him he was not being arrested immediately, but the agent would submit a report to a higher authority.
Calls to the Secret Service were not returned Tuesday. The agency, which protects the president, investigates all threats against him.
Civil rights advocates and local leaders condemned Marsters’ post, saying it was outrageous, an embarrassment for the town and a betrayal of law enforcement. Marsters is a retired police officer from Massachusetts.
“In three words, this statement incites violence to the level of murder, advocates for the assassination of a United States president, and uses what is likely the most deplorable racial slur in American history — all in one short sentence; all forming such a hateful statement and sentiment,” Town Manager Andrew Gilmore said in a written statement Tuesday.
Civil rights advocates said Marsters’ statement is unacceptable and requires a strong response because, if ignored, it can pave the way for more serious behavior in society.
“When somebody who is seeking a public position says something like this, it tends to encourage other people. It legitimizes this. ‘Maybe it’s OK to take it a step further,'” said Steve Wessler, former civil rights prosecutor for the Maine Attorney General’s Office who now works with police and other organizations in and outside the U.S. to investigate hate crimes.
“It’s extraordinarily irresponsible,” Wessler said. “Just think about how a 14-year-old black boy or girl reacts to hearing there are people not only referring to the president by that word, but talking about ‘We want to shoot him.’ That’s extraordinarily degrading.”
Gilmore said he learned of Marsters’ statement late Monday night when he, Police Chief Anthony Ward and Selectmen Chairman Mark Duquette got anonymous emails from several residents, with pictures of the statement on the Facebook page.
“If these statements were indeed made by Mr. Marsters and that is proven during this investigation, I need to clearly state that I am deeply concerned, appalled, and frankly dumbfounded as to why he or anyone would declare such a thing, let alone print it for the world to see,” Gilmore said in his statement on behalf of the town of 5,000 just outside Lewiston.
Gilmore said the language called for a loud rebuke from the town so people around the state and the country understand that Marsters’ statements do not reflect the opinions or attitudes of most people in Sabattus.
One longtime Sabattus resident, Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins, called Marsters’ statement “deplorable.”
“It’s just another embarrassing situation for the town,” he said. “We’re better than that.”
Although he found the comments offensive, Desjardins said, he wasn’t surprised.
“He had said things before,” Desjardins said of Marsters. “But he was a former police officer. He should have known better. I can’t believe he didn’t think this would become a big issue.”
Desjardins said he disagreed publicly when Marsters proposed in March that the town require all Sabattus residents to possess guns.
Others in town Tuesday said they hadn’t heard about Marsters’ Facebook post and didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.
Marsters now serves on the town’s charter commission, the budget committee, the ordinance review committee and a public works citizen advisory committee.
According to a profile he submitted to the Lewiston Sun Journal, he is married, has eight grandchildren and moved to Maine a few years ago because he and his wife couldn’t afford Massachusetts housing prices on their pensions.
Marsters’ Facebook page describes him as a retired police officer from Malden, Mass. He also is a veteran of the Navy and retired from the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 1995.
He has no criminal record in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification.
Marsters’ Facebook page is his personal one, but many town residents and officials were able to see the post.
He said he has apologized for his statement but doesn’t think he did anything wrong. He insisted that he would have made the same comment if the president were white.
“I’m not prejudiced,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in the white community I don’t like either.”
Marsters’ previous Facebook posts suggest a strong dislike of Obama and his administration, and include links to many right-wing websites.
In one, he uses an expletive, followed by: “… Obama and his communist crew. He has to go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Another, written before November’s presidential election, reads in part: “Everyone says he has to go, but guess what. … (he) will be voted in again. So sad that people can be buffaloed by him. Maybe Seal Team 6 should look him up.”
Seal Team 6 is the elite Navy unit that tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden.
Asked what bothers him about the president, Marsters said he believes Obama cannot speak without a Teleprompter and lacked experience before taking office.
He said he disagrees with the president’s policies on immigration and the national debt, and said social programs like food stamps are overly generous.
The Facebook post that provoked the controversy could not be viewed by the public Tuesday, although some of Marsters’ older posts could.
Screen shots of the Facebook page and ensuing dialogue that were sent to the town officials show some people responded immediately to Marsters’ statement.
One said the First Amendment doesn’t allow people to shoot the president or encourage someone else to do it.
Marsters’ response was, “He is not a legal president.”
For all the vitriol, Marsters has been a respectable town volunteer and has not expressed any strident political views, as far as Gilmore knows. “When he’s on the road committee, they talk roads,” he said.
Marsters made headlines in March when he proposed an ordinance to require every Sabattus resident to own a gun. On the advice of the police chief, selectmen voted 4-0 against sending the measure to voters.
The proposal was changed to a measure to prohibit the town from passing any laws that infringe on residents’ Second Amendment rights. Voters approved that measure in June.
Marsters said he plans to continue his run for a seat on the Sabattus Board of Selectmen. He has taken out papers to run, and the deadline for submitting them is Sept. 23. Two seats are open and only one incumbent is running, he said.
“Sabattus voted for me, 2-1, for the ordinance,” he said. “I’ll probably top that now because I’m getting all this free publicity.”
— Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: