Masked employees walk outside Building 35 at Puritan Medical Products Co. in Guilford early in April. President Trump has said he will visit the plant Friday.Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

A group organizing protests of President Trump’s visit to a medical swab manufacturing plant in Guilford is urging supporters to avoid the small northern Maine town Friday to minimize the potential for violence.

Gov. Janet Mills also urged demonstrators to express their positions peacefully Friday, whether they support or oppose the president.

In messages shared Thursday with the media and on Facebook, the leaders of “We Are Maine” ask protesters to assemble instead in Bangor.

 “After communication with local organizers and law enforcement in Guilford, and the interest of safety of both protesters and the Guilford community, we are encouraging those who are currently planning to protest in Guilford to redirect their energy to the planned and organized protest in Bangor to meet the President when he first arrives in Maine,” a statement from the group read.

The group also warned that protesters in Guilford could face additional risks, including from armed Trump supporters who may go to the small, Piscataquis County town of about 1,500 people. Organizers said an alternative protest area in a parking lot across from the Congregational Church in Dover-Foxcroft, eight miles from Guilford, would also be available.

While Trump critics were preparing to protest, some of his supporters said Thursday they believe his visit to Puritan Medical Products, which accelerated the making of cotton swabs for coronavirus testing at the government’s direction, should be seen as a positive thing.

“The President of the United States is coming and going to Puritan to thank the workers for all their hard work,” said state Sen. Paul Davis, a Republican from Sangerville whose district includes Guilford. He said the $75 million contract the company recently won to expand production would keep Puritan workers employed and adding jobs in nearby Pittsfield as well.

“Thanking the men and women who work there, I think it’s a great thing,” said Davis, adding that he believed it was the first time a U.S. president had ever visited the town and that people are excited about the attention.

Before going to Guilford, Trump was expected to participate in a closed-door, roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen in Bangor.

In a statement issued by her office late Thursday afternoon, Mills said she hoped Trump would take to heart what he hears from those fishermen.

“I am especially hopeful that he will address the impact that harmful Federal trade policies have had on them over the course of the past several years and pledge support for greater Federal financial assistance to aid them,” Mills said. “That would be welcomed and helpful.”

She urged protesters to stay safe Friday, with the coronavirus still active and spreading around the state.

“Let us all remember during this time of high tension that, regardless of our various and differing political beliefs, we are all members of this Maine family,” Mills said. “We all love our country, we all love our state, and we all want the best for both.”

Piscataquis County Sheriff Robert Young, whose agency will help provide security for the president’s visit, did not respond to messages left by a reporter Thursday. In a Facebook post Tuesday, Young urged protestors on both sides to be peaceful.

Puritan is one of only two producers globally of swabs used to test patients for the coronavirus. A White House official said Monday the president “is expected to champion the administration’s success in harnessing and bolstering American manufacturing capabilities to create American-made medical supplies and medicine to respond to COVID-19.”

The company received $75.5 million to double its production from 20 million to 40 million swabs to help address shortages of the supplies needed to test patients for COVID-19.

Organizers of the Bangor protest, which include Rev. Dr. Malcolm Himschoot, co-pastor of the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono; and Marie Follatayer, from activist organization Mainers for Accountable Leadership, said protesters will assemble in Bangor at 11 a.m.

Another Facebook group, “Guilford, Maine Peaceful Protest for Black Lives Matter” appeared to have been taken down on Thursday. The group had drawn “interest” responses from about 1,700 people, but it’s not clear if that protest will still take place.

Several Maine cities, including Portland have been gripped by protests in recent days over the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who died in police custody last week.

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder after he knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd could be heard telling police that he couldn’t breathe.

More than 9,000 people have been arrested across the country in connection with unrest over Floyd’s death, and at least 12 deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out, the Associated Press reported.

Monday afternoon Trump authorized the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters to clear space so the president could walk to a church near the White House, where he stood outside with a Bible.

The action has been highly criticized by faith leaders and Maine’s entire U.S. Congressional delegation, including Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has also expressed concern about Trump’s visit, saying she is worried about the security and safety of Maine residents.

Mills expressed those concerns during a conference call with Trump and other governors earlier this week, and she also asked Attorney General William Barr, who was on the conference call, to share with Maine the intelligence information he said federal authorities had about professional violent protesters possibly coming to Maine to exploit the situation.

Mills’ office did not respond to a reporter’s questions Thursday about the Trump visit and whether the federal government had shared any intelligence with the state.

Young, the county sheriff, said in his Facebook post that he hopes “folks will let the employees of Hardwood Products/Puritan Medical Products have their moment of recognition, as the President, on behalf of the nation, expresses our collective thanks.”

He said that in “ordinary times” a visit from a sitting president would be greatly welcomed.

“Sadly, at this time, our nation is so full of strife and rancor, that the good nature of his coming is overshadowed by the politics of our time,” Young wrote. The sheriff also expressed his “shock and dismay” over Floyd’s death.

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