About 400 people gathered Sunday evening in Portland’s Monument Square in a rally against white supremacy, neo-Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan and President Trump – for what was criticized as his lukewarm denunciation of the deadly violence that a white nationalist demonstration triggered the day before in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The rally was peaceful for the most part as at least four Portland police officers watched from a distance. Sgt. Chris Mitchell said no one was arrested.

A Scarborough man dressed in a clown costume, wearing a white pointed cap on his head and holding a sign that read “King of the Ku Klux Klowns” was probably the most evocative sight in the huge crowd.

When a woman asked the man, the well-known lawyer Tom Connolly, to remove the cap because it was making some people uncomfortable, he firmly, but politely, said he would not.

Portland Stands in Solidarity with Charlottesville was organized on social media by March Forth and Portland Women’s March On. Similar rallies and vigils were held Sunday in Sanford, Skowhegan, Rockland, Bar Harbor, Machias, Bangor, Cumberland, Norway, Gouldsboro, Belfast and Brunswick. A vigil against hate is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday in Augusta’s Capitol Park.

While the major thrust of the Portland rally was to denounce the blatant display of racism and hatred in Charlottesville, Trump was not immune from criticism. Some even blamed the president for fostering a culture in this country that tolerates hate and violence.

“The current presidential administration encourages hate and violence through their association with white nationalists, a number of whom are working in the White House,” the rally’s organizers asserted in a statement issued before it began, mentioning Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller by name. “These individuals should resign immediately and President Trump needs to speak clear and unequivocally that he rejects racism and hate. His meek and unconvincing speech yesterday did little to reassure the country that he is committed to upholding civil rights laws and norms.”

Jennifer Jones of Falmouth, one of the organizers of the rally, derided Trump in an interview before the event started.

Kenneth Bailey of Portland speaks at a rally in Monument Square Sunday night to condemn racism and honor people who were killed or injured during the violent confrontation Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“He stood there on the podium like a drone, with no emotion, reading the statement that he had been given,” Jones said, recalling the president’s public statement on Saturday. “And then he went off script and blamed many sides” for the violent clashes in Charlottesville. Jones said the president should have condemned the white supremacist group that ignited the violence.

“This is not the time to be silent any longer,” Jones said later in comments to the crowd. “We do not want hate in Maine, in our country or in this administration.”

The White House said Sunday that Trump’s condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville “includes white Supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

Another organizer of Sunday evening’s rally, Naomi Mayer, told the crowd: “I’m not here because I’m Jewish. I’m here, and all of you are here, because we are human. None of you were born to hate. It wasn’t in our DNA.”

Many of those who attended the rally held signs. The messages varied widely form “Hate Has No Home Here,” Destroy Fascism” and “This is Not Normal” to “No Room for Bigotry and “History Teaches the Right is Always Wrong.”

Bill Baynes of Dayton carried a sign that read, “Tired of Trump Inspired Hate, Impeach Trump Now.” Baynes said that Trump – both during the campaign and in his administration – has made it seem like displays of hatred and violence are acceptable.

Rally participant Tom Connolly wears a costume that mocks the Ku Klux Klan Sunday night. Staff photo by Dennis Hoey

“He’s promoting it,” Baynes said. “It makes me angry. It makes me sick to my stomach.”

Connolly, the man dressed as a clown, also blamed Trump for the riots in Charlottesville.

“He’s completely responsible. He incites racial violence and encourages white supremacists,” Connolly said.

Connolly, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, said he was arrested in 2006 after he was spotted by police on a highway construction site in South Portland carrying a toy gun and dressed in an Osama bin Laden costume.

“There is such a saturation of verbiage in our society that images are more powerful,” Connolly explained Sunday night when asked why he likes to wear costumes. “You have to shock the consciousness of people’s minds to get them to act.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling walked through the crowd during the rally and paused to make a comment.

“I’m so proud of our city for standing up to this kind of hatred,” Strimling said.

Caitrin Smith-Monahan of Portland, speaking on behalf of the International Socialist Organization, told the crowd that white supremacists “have been given a permission slip from the Trump administration to put up their roots wherever they want to.”

“Today, we are seeing a new level of repression and it’s up to us to put a stop to it,” Smith said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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