Gorham Town Councilor Benjamin Hartwell has been targeted with hostile emails and “vile” social media postings following news reports last week that he was a member of Oath Keepers several years ago.

Seventeen members of Oath Keepers face charges in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol. Its founder has been indicted for seditious conspiracy against the United States for his alleged role in organizing and planning the insurrection.

“I don’t support what happened on Jan. 6,” Hartwell told the American Journal in his first in-person interview with the media since the story broke.

He denounces as a “witch hunt” the personal attacks on him based on an “alleged” remote connection to Oath Keepers.

One social media post slammed him as a fascist, he said. Angry emails he and other Gorham officials have received, including some from non-Gorham residents, call on him to resign from the Town Council. His term expires in November and he is not seeking reelection.

An Army combat veteran of the war in Iraq, Hartwell joined Oath Keepers in 2015 because of its advocacy for the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment right for citizens to bear arms, he said. The group at that time said it was made up of active military personnel, veterans, law enforcement and first responders, according to a 2015 Oath Keepers brochure Hartwell provided to the American Journal.


“We are not advocating or promoting violence or acts of aggression towards any person, group, or organization or any government,” the brochure states.

Hartwell didn’t renew his Oath Keepers membership, then $40 per year, when it expired in 2016, and he had not attended any of its meetings, he said.

“I had forgotten about the organization,” he said.

Town Council Vice Chairperson James Hagar supports Hartwell.

“I believe him, at his word, that he did not meet, nor participate in any meetings and let his membership expire. After all, he has nothing to gain by not telling the truth – everything he has stated can be researched and verified,” Hager said in an email to the American Journal.

Hager said Hartwell served the “country proudly” and the “philosophies that the group was modeled after took on a different meaning.”


The Portland Press Herald reported last week on an Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism list of public figures nationwide who were members of Oath Keepers. Hartwell and one other elected official from Maine were among 38,000 names listed. Hartwell said the list was hacked and leaked to the league.

When reporters began calling him about the list, “I was totally blindsided,” he said.

Some people who saw last week’s newspaper accounts, Hartwell said, are making false statements. He cited as an example a social media posting purporting to use his words: “Not sure what the big deal is, I only dipped my toe in fascist waters for a year,” the posting said.

Hartwell said that “absolutely is” a defamatory comment. Other commenters say they won’t vote for Hartwell, but he isn’t on the Nov. 8 ballot.

He told the American Journal that other priorities took precedence over seeking another term. He’s the father of a daughter born in June and, in addition to his law practice in Portland, he operates a beef farm in Gorham. The deadline to file nomination papers for the upcoming election was Sept. 7, the day before the first story about the Anti-Defamation League Center list appeared in the Press Herald.

Gorham Town Council Chairperson Lee Pratt said emails and phone calls he has received have been “50/50” in support and opposition of Hartwell, while Hager said the emails he has received ask for Hartwell “to step aside.”


Pratt said Hartwell, who started serving on the council in 2013 and is a former chairperson, has been a dedicated member and continues to be.

“Councilor Hartwell has not let the recent news stop his dedication to the town of Gorham and has been focusing on finishing his term with the best interest of the citizens of Gorham in mind,” Pratt said in an email to the American Journal.

Hager said Hartwell “has done a very good job balancing the needs of the community and listening to both sides of any item that is presented to the council.”


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