Residents of Freeport and Augusta were stunned to discover Ku Klux Klan fliers outside their homes Monday morning.

Jack May of Freeport said he found the fliers while jogging near his home on South Freeport Road around 6:30 a.m.

The fliers, carefully folded and tucked in plastic sandwich bags weighted with pebbles, were tossed at the ends of driveways and near mailboxes of about two dozen homes, he said.

“It’s really disturbing,” May said. “I’m not someone who does well with hate, and now I feel like hate is all around me.”

May reported the fliers to Freeport police at the urging of neighbors who found them disturbing.

The one-page flier with black-and-red printing announces the formation of a Ku Klux Klan neighborhood watch and urges people to call an 800 number that is the “24 Hour Klanline” of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which has a website.

“You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake!” the flier says. “Are there troubles in your neighborhood? Contact the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan today!”

The KKK, a largely secretive society organized in the South after the Civil War to assert white supremacy, has a long history of promoting bigotry and violence against blacks, immigrants, Jews, Roman Catholics and other groups, and was active in Maine in the 1920s.

The fliers found Monday feature a large drawing of a Klan member wearing a white robe and pointed hood, as well as Klan members on horseback, the group’s insignia, Christian crosses and the American flag.

“It’s revolting that they would use the American flag to promote hate,” May said. “I guess it’s a form of free speech. It’s just really shocking.”

Freeport Police Chief Susan Nourse said a police officer responded to May’s neighborhood and found about 20 of the bagged fliers along a 1.5-mile stretch of South Freeport Road.

“It looked very random,” Nourse said. “It didn’t seem to be that any one person was targeted.”

While tossing the flier in people’s yards violated local laws against littering, it doesn’t constitute a hate crime because the flier is largely informational and so qualifies as protected free speech, Nourse said. She said she would report the incident to the state Attorney General’s Office, but her department wouldn’t investigate further unless someone reported being threatened directly by the group’s literature or members.

“It doesn’t say they’re going to go after anyone,” she said.

FLIERS DON’T VIOLATE CIVIL RIGHTS

Tim Feeley, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said that while the views espoused by the KKK are abhorrent, the fliers alone don’t violate Maine’s Civil Rights Act.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who lives on South Freeport Road, said she didn’t receive a flier at her home, but she found its wording threatening, not just to her neighbors, but to all Mainers. Even if the fliers are protected under the First Amendment, she said, Mainers need to reject the sentiment of the flier and the KKK.

“It is really important for folks, where these have been distributed or anywhere in the state, to say, ‘Go away, we don’t want you in our neighborhood, you’re not welcome here,’ ” Gideon said. “What’s important is that we as Mainers, no matter where we live, are very clear that this is not representative of who we are and we are not interested, and these people can go away.”

Incidents of similar fliers being distributed the same way have been reported across the country in recent years, including at a home in Appleton in Knox County in November.

Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire said residents of several streets, including Washington Street, Northern Avenue and multiple side streets off Townsend Road, reported finding fliers with the same message Monday morning.

Gregoire said his officers are looking into the matter, but it appears that no crime occurred in distributing the fliers, other than littering. While some people might be concerned about the language of the fliers, he said, it doesn’t appear to be hateful speech or an implied threat.

“We’ve heard of these (fliers being distributed) in other parts of the country,” Gregoire said. “At times, an organization like that will do something like this. It has a tendency to attract attention.”

RESURRECTING DIVISIVE ACTIVITIES

An Augusta woman, who declined to be identified, said her husband noticed the fliers on the ground and on porches as he accompanied their children to the school bus stop at the corner of Washington and Jefferson streets. The woman, who said she is African-American and her husband is from Puerto Rico, said she felt that the fliers were aimed at running people of color out of town.

A reporter’s call to the 800 number on the flier, seeking information about the group, didn’t bring an immediate response.

A recorded greeting states that the organization is “unapologetically committed to the interests and values of the white race … white people will simply not buy the equality propaganda anymore.”

It describes the group as “a movement of white people for the highest standards of western, Christian civilization.” It offers options for callers to press a number to receive an information packet, to get a call back from a member, or to “check the status of your application.”

The Klan had about 20,000 members in Maine in the 1920s, when chapters cropped up across the state, largely in response to Irish and French-Canadian immigrants who were Roman Catholic, according to the Maine Historical Society.

KKK members built large meeting halls in Portland and Bangor, Klan activities were reported in local newspapers and the organization openly supported the election of Republican Gov. Ralph Brewster in 1924 and 1926. By 1930, the KKK in Maine was down to about 225 members after various scandals involving bribery, adultery, embezzlement and bootlegging.

Today, there’s one Klan-related group in Maine, the Militant Knights Ku Klux Klan, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups nationally. The number of hate groups in the United States has escalated in recent decades, from 457 in 1999 to 892 in 2015, the center’s website says. It doesn’t provide membership or contact information. Maine also has a neo-Nazi group.

The Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of St. Michael Catholic Parish in Augusta, believes fliers distributed in the city’s Sand Hill neighborhood targeted recent refugees who live near St. Augustine Church.

Morin said the fliers are a sign of ignorance and prejudice, and he sees a connection between them and President Trump’s recent executive order cracking down on all refugees, as well as visitors and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, especially Syria.

“We’re in a place in society right now where powerful people are giving green lights to this sort of stuff,” Morin said. “It is very sad that people are resurrecting these attempts at dividing people in our society.”

Staff Writer Scott Thistle and Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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