U.S. Sen. Angus King speaks via video from the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon to Oak Hill High School juniors seated in the auditorium at the Wales school. He told them, “Reach further than you think you can,” he said. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

WALES — U.S. Sen. Angus King appeared early Thursday afternoon in a choppy video on a big screen in front of about 60 Oak Hill High School juniors gathered in the auditorium.

“Oak Hill, can you hear me?” Maine’s junior senator asked. “I’m in the hall outside the Senate chamber.”

After showing off the view at the U.S. Capitol, the two-term independent proceeded to talk with students for nearly an hour on everything from his biggest fear — the misuse of artificial intelligence — to his memories of the nation’s capital in the wake of rioting in 1968.

Ukraine got the most attention.

“We’ve got to help the Ukrainians,” King said. “They are almost literally fighting for us.”

He said Russia has shown itself to be “an aggressive country” whose full-scale invasion of its neighbor last year left the United States and its allies in Europe with no choice except to provide aid and assistance to Ukraine.


“This is the time that we’ve got to draw the line,” said King, a 78-year-old former governor who plans to seek a third, six-year term in 2024. “It’s a delicate moment but we have no choice except to stop the dictator before he goes further.”

Asked by a student if he’s worried about the conflict ending in a nuclear war, King said that “nuclear weapons are something that we’re all concerned about. But I don’t see any immediate threat in that regard.”

He said he remembers “duck and cover drills” from his school days at the height of the Cold War but recognizes that deterrence has so far prevented any country from using nuclear weapons since 1945, when the U.S. dropped two bombs on Japanese cities to bring World War II to an end.

King said the bottom line is that it is better to stop an aggressor like Russia early “than to fight a major war” with it later.

Asked about his biggest worries for young people, King said one of them is what could happen in the rapidly expanding field of artificial intelligence.

“It is developing so fast that we don’t know how to handle it,” King said. It’s already clear, he said, that it is “going to have a huge impact on us.”


Some of that impact may be beneficial, especially in health care, he said, but “there are also negatives.”

“Our democracy is based on information,” King said, so voters and policymakers alike need to know what’s true and what’s not to make wise choices.

He said artificial intelligence will give people “the ability to create false information that’s so true to life that people won’t be able to tell it’s not true.”

For instance, he said, the day is fast coming when someone could create an entirely fictional video of him saying things “that have no bearing on who I am or what I believe, but it will look totally real” and then share it all over social media in a way that is “really hard to rebut.”

King said it is a problem he’s talked with other senators about as they search for what can be done “to make sure this doesn’t really harm us” while preserving the nation’s commitment to free speech and a free press.

When a student asked King about his memories of 1968, an era they are studying, King talked about how he arrived in Washington for a summer job not long after terrible riots that rocked the city in the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.


“There was this musty smell in the air,” King remembered, a smoky residue from blocks of burned-out buildings.

King asked students to think about how alienated the rioters must have felt from their community “that they would burn it down” in frustration.

He said that year he worked at the University of Virginia Law School to boost the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy, a U.S. senator. But Kennedy died at the hands of a gunman in California in June 1968, another blow that followed King’s death by two months.

“That hit me very hard,” King said.

King told students what he likes about his job are the hearings that bring experts before Senate panels.

“I like to learn things. I’m innately curious,” he said. “I want to know how things work, and I want to know how to make things better.”


His least-favorite aspect of the job? “I spend an awful lot of time on airplanes.”

King gave students some life advice as well.

“Take more risks,” he told them, then added “I don’t mean doing something dumb like riding a motorcycle with a blindfold on.”

The senator said young people should “try things that you think may be beyond you” rather than holding back.

“Reach further than you think you can,” King said.

He also told them to “value your friends and family,” even parents who “may be a pain in the neck now,” because when times of trouble come, and they will, they’re the ones “who will stand by you.”

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