AUGUSTA — A new book by a liberal activist is causing a stir in Maine political circles with its claims that Gov. Paul LePage held a series of meetings last year with individuals associated with a conspiracy group who contend that top Democratic lawmakers are guilty of treason.
The first chapter of Mike Tipping’s book, “As Maine Went,” was published Monday on the political news website Talking Points Memo. The book is based in part on emails, memos and other documents he requested from LePage’s office under the Freedom of Access Act, and the records have since been obtained by the Portland Press Herald. The book will be published this month by Tilbury House, a small Maine publisher.
The first chapter describes the governor’s eight meetings with a handful of individuals who are members of a Maine group associated with the Sovereign Citizens movement, although one of the members denied that association Monday. The citizens movement, a conspiracy organization, believes the government is plotting a Christian holocaust via the mass collection of firearms, that it runs mind-control operations and that it was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Sandy Hook school shootings.
Sovereign Citizens is considered a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI, and members of the Sovereign Citizens movement in other states have been known to falsify currency, impersonate and threaten law enforcement officers, and, in several instances, commit violence. The individuals who met with LePage are not known to have participated in violent acts, but they do subscribe to the Christian holocaust conspiracy, according to Tipping. Two of the individuals interviewed Monday disputed that they advocate violence.
It is unclear why the governor met with members of the Maine group, which goes by the name Constitutional Coalition. Some of its members claim to have helped LePage get elected during the tea party uprising of 2010.
In a prepared statement, the governor’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, said Monday that LePage has met with “hundreds of Mainers hearing thousands of ideas, concerns and suggestions.” She said that “hearing those ideas during constituent meetings does not translate to the governor endorsing the ideas of others.”
“The governor meets also with lawmakers, including Sen. Alfond and Speaker Eves,” Bennett continued. “Those meetings do not constitute agreement with their views, as well. Lawmakers and constituents do not speak for the governor.”
Bennett did not address why LePage met with the group eight times. The Constitutional Coalition members who participated in at least some of the meetings were Wayne Leach, Gary Smart, Phil Merletti and Jack McCarthy, according to emails. LePage’s staff advised him not to meet with the members of the group, according to emails.
Leach, reached Monday night at his home in Winslow, confirmed that he and other members of the Constitutional Coalition met privately seven or eight times last year with LePage.
Leach said his group reached out to a number of state officials – including Alfond and Eves – but LePage was the only one who agreed to sit down with them. He said the governor listened to their grievances and “was on base with us” for several weeks, but Leach did not say what issues they discussed with the governor.
Those meetings ended “abruptly” in August or September, Leach said. “Eventually he shut us off and we came to a dead end,” he said.
Leach, a 76-year-old grandfather, denied that his group is violent. His group has grown increasingly concerned about the number of state laws being passed and about the number of times the state constitution has been amended. He said legislators, the governor and other state officials need to be held accountable for their actions.
“We are not violent, domestic terrorists,” he said. “Yes, we believe in the right of self-defense, but we know better than to invade the State House with weapons and pitchforks.”
Merletti, 70, of Lee, another member of the Constitutional Coalition, denied Monday that his group was in any way affiliated with the Sovereign Citizens organization, adding, “They’ve done some real nasty stuff.” He said Tipping was trying to sabotage LePage’s gubernatorial campaign by connecting the Constitutional Coalition to a terrorist organization.
“Tipping is trying to destroy the governor and he has found a way to do it,” Merletti said.
Tipping wrote that coalition members met with the governor to discuss, among other things, arresting and executing House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, for high treason and a breach of the U.S. Constitution. Some of the same individuals then discussed the meetings with the governor during interviews with the Aroostook Watchmen, a radio show broadcast on WXME.
The hosts of Aroostook Watchmen, Jack McCarthy and Steve Martin, frequently rail about the looming Christian holocaust, which they liken to the one committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews.
In an audio recording of the Feb. 4, 2013 edition of the show posted on Tipping’s blog Monday, McCarthy, one of the men who met with LePage, said the group discussed their concerns about Eves and Alfond, and that the penalty for high treason hasn’t changed in 100 years.
“And I didn’t say it, but the governor said it,” McCarthy said. “I never opened my mouth and said the word. The governor looked at us and looked at his buddy (presumably an unidentified aide) and said, ‘They’re talking about hanging them.’ I said, ‘Praise the Lord, let’s hang a few. We’ll be done with this crap.’ ”
LePage disputed Tipping’s account of the meeting Monday, as well as the version recounted on the radio program. He told the Bangor Daily News that those discussions never took place.
“It never happened,” LePage told the Bangor paper. “We did not discuss execution, arrest or hanging.”
LePage told the newspaper that he listened extensively to the group, discussed the Maine and U.S. constitutions with them and disagreed with much of what they said.
Merletti also vehemently denied Tipping’s claim that the group discussed acts of violence against legislative leaders during meetings with LePage.
“That,” he said, “is crazy.”
Merletti said the private meetings with the governor focused instead on convincing LePage to create a common law or constitutional court where a judge could hear complaints filed by ordinary citizens against government officials.
“That’s all we were looking for,” Merletti said.
LePage appeared on the Aroostook Watchmen show once during his 2010 election campaign, prompting criticism on the conservative Web forum As Maine Goes from Republicans, including some tea party activists. LePage himself has come under fire from the hosts of the program, who say that his independence has been compromised by his relationship with the “neocons” and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group.
Tipping wrote in the book chapter that last summer, the governor asked Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty to meet with and look into the claims of the coalition, whose members believe that elected sheriffs are the only legitimate law enforcement officers, and to also meet with Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, to hear the individuals’ demands to arrest Alfond and Eves.
Liberty confirmed to Tipping that the meeting with group members and LePage took place.
The first meeting with the governor occurred two days after McCarthy and members of Constitutional Coalition held a news conference at the State House. The group claimed that Alfond, Eves and the governor himself had violated their oaths and should be removed from office. The group then issued a set of “remonstrances” to the three officials, which under their interpretation of the Maine Constitution, meant that all three officials must surrender their elected offices.
During the event at the State House, Tipping wrote, coalition leader Leach referenced the American Revolution and declared that “hopefully this remonstrance, which uses words, will be sufficient. The weapons, I hope, will not be used.”
Democratic legislative leaders criticized LePage for meeting with the Constitutional Coalition members.
“It is disturbing and irresponsible for Governor LePage to have ongoing meetings with people who are dangerous and known to be domestic terrorists,” Alfond said in a written statement. “We have zero tolerance for threats of violence, whether on the playground or at the State House. And instead of shutting it down, Governor LePage entertained their delusional thoughts and gave these people a voice.”
Said Eves, “This violent extremist group presents a real and present danger. It’s outrageous that the governor would meet with them and validate their criminal and violent ideas.”
Both leaders said the Sovereign Citizens came to the offices of the Senate President and Speaker of the House on multiple occasions during the legislative session to deliver remonstrances. They said remonstrances were also delivered to their homes. According to a media statement, Capitol Police and the FBI were notified of the visits.
Other documents obtained by Tipping show that the governor’s staff asked the Executive Protection Unit of the Maine State Police to run background checks on the four members of the Constitutional Coalition he met with: Merletti, McCarthy, Leach and Smart.
Tipping said that after he submitted FOAA requests, the governor stopped meeting with members of the Constitutional Coalition.
Bennett said the legislative leaders and the Maine People’s Alliance, for which Tipping works, “have stooped to ridiculous levels during this campaign season to attack the governor, but this is truly an all-time low.”
The Maine People’s Alliance is a progressive advocacy group that helps elect Democratic candidates, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud. Tipping said he wrote the book because he was interested in the tea party movement and its rise during the 2010 election.
“It’s a case study for a bigger shift nationally and I think it’s an interesting story to tell,” he said. “These kind of elements of the tea party are nowhere near the whole story, but they are an interesting part of the narrative.”