If a picture speaks a thousand words, then how about a video in which a guy says absolutely nothing?
“What they’re trying to do is make me look bad politically,” said Tom Brann, a longtime town councilor from Hampden, in an interview Friday.
By “they,” Brann means the Hampden Association of Land Owners, better known by its other-worldly acronym, HALO.
And by “look bad politically,” he’s talking about a video that’s gone viral on YouTube showing him and another councilor sitting mute while the mayor and the rest of the Town Council stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance before diving into their business for the evening.
More on the reaction in a minute. First, the story behind the outrage.
It all started in January, when Mayor Carol Duprey and four council members voted to start each meeting with a recitation of the pledge – a common ritual in legislatures and municipal chambers across the land.
But Brann and Councilor William Shakespeare (yes, that’s his real name) voted against it. Why?
Shakespeare, a 30-year military veteran whose son went from West Point to Iraq, told the Bangor Daily News last week that “I don’t think I have to prove my patriotism to anyone.”
Brann, 67, is also a veteran – he served in the Army Signal Corps during the Vietnam era – but beyond that, “I’m not supposed to discuss what I was doing.”
Brann actually stood up to recite the pledge the first time the council did it two months ago, but sat back down when he heard Mayor Duprey dedicate the pledge to “the brave men and women in uniform currently serving in harm’s way.”
“My feeling is that everyone who is in the government these days is really in harm’s way,” Brann said. “So if you’re going to cloak it in something … it should be ‘in honor of those who are serving in our government’ and leave it at that.”
Brann also has a problem with Duprey’s use of her family to lead the council and audience in the pledge each week. In addition to her children, that would include her husband and candidate for re-election, state Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, look. Everybody’s supporting Brian Duprey,’ ” Brann said. “No, that’s not the purpose of this thing.”
Enter HALO, which has been embroiled in a pitched battle with local officials for the past several years over the town’s comprehensive plan and recently began making its own video recordings of council meetings because, well, it can.
Last week, the group sliced the 43-second Pledge of Allegiance out of the March 17 council meeting and posted it on YouTube under the heading “Hampden Town Council Members Refuse Pledge of Allegiance.”
The rest is hysteria.
As of Saturday, the video had received just under 32,000 views. And the reviews?
“The citizens of Hampden need to bring handfuls of dog crap to the next meeting and lit if all fling at these two piles of human dung,” suggests one commenter whose flying fingers clearly had trouble keeping up with his flag fury.
“Hey look it is a couple Obama voters looking to gain passage into his brothel,” theorizes another.
“Remove their citizenship. That will solve the problem,” demands yet another.
The video also popped up on the website libertyunyielding.com, where “MikeInMaine” thanked the site for “bringing this story to my attention! I live in Maine, and had not heard a damn thing about it … but then our media is radically liberal.”
It doesn’t end there. The calls for everything from deportation to public flogging have spilled over onto Brann’s home telephone and cellphone – he can usually tell within the first few words whether it’s a message worth hearing.
At the same time, the phone has been ringing off the hook at the town hall, where Town Manager Susan Lessard had the courage to tell a local television station last week that it’s “a personal choice” whether or not to recite the pledge.
Indeed. Just as it’s Brann’s personal choice to stand up (or, in this case, stay seated) to what he unabashedly refers to as “an extreme conservative group that have been cussing and swearing at the Town Council for the last three or four years.”
(HALO, bless them, did not respond to a request for an interview.)
Brann insists he doesn’t give a hoot what all the basement dwellers think or say about him – including their muttering about the fact that he not only sits throughout the entire pledge, but has his arms folded across his chest to boot.
Instant messaging via body language? Guess again.
It turns out Brann, a retired UMaine forestry professor, was a pole vaulter in his younger days – at least until he shattered his clavicle and shoulder.
“My arms crossed has sort of been the bugaboo of my life. I’ve always sat that way. I go to a comedy show and I sit that way. My birthday parties, I sit that way,” he said. “If I just let it hang, it aches. So I fold my arms. It’s just me.”
Another thing that’s apparently just Brann: Because his military experience left him with an inside-out command of flag etiquette, it was Brann who informed his fellow councilors not once, not twice, but three times in recent months that they had the United States flag on the wrong side of the Maine flag as they prepared to recite their pledge.
“They have such a great respect for the flag,” he mused. “But they don’t even know how to display it.”
Still, this ever-escalating brouhaha does have Brann rethinking his position.
He’s crossed paths in recent days with “very good-meaning, honest people” who have seen the video and are “personally offended because they don’t understand what’s going on. It makes them unhappy because they have tremendous respect for the flag.”
So … now what?
“There’s a very good possibility, and I’ve been talking to Bill (Shakespeare) about it, that what we may do is just arrive at the council meeting late,” said Brann.
Cue the national anthem.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: