Many of the bigots disrupting local government meetings throughout Maine lately come from the same dark corner of our politics as the neo-Nazis who have been increasingly public here in recent months. In some cases, they may be the same people.

Their goal, in all that they do, is to disrupt the hard work of building more fair, open and prosperous communities, and to intimidate those who are doing it. The meetings are an obvious target for white supremacists – local government requires different people to come together to peacefully solve problems, and that couldn’t be more antithetical to what they stand for.

By dedicating ourselves to the cooperative process of government – and by generally working together, despite our differences, to make our communities better – we can show the world just how wrong and pathetic those bigots are.

First and foremost, that means keeping our public meetings public. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public gatherings in 2020, Zoom provided a way to continue public participation remotely. It helped people take part in meetings who could not have when that required physically attending.

Remote meetings also opened the way for anonymous disruptions. Almost immediately, people began logging on under fake names and addresses so that they could post offensive statements or images. Those disruptions continue to this day. Council meetings in both Portland and Hallowell this month were disrupted by people making antisemitic, homophobic and racist comments.

In both cases, the callers specifically targeted community leaders known for promoting diverse, inclusive communities. “Callers have also become more sophisticated over time, now using actual Portland addresses and sometimes the real names of local business owners to seem more legitimate,” the Press Herald reported last week.


Similar incidents have occurred in Bangor, South Portland, Biddeford and elsewhere.

These incidents are not pranks; they are meant to shock, disrupt and intimidate. The perpetrators want to stop officials from conducting the business necessary to run a community, and they want to scare minorities, making them think twice before they get involved.

But that doesn’t mean Zoom meetings should be shut down, as some have suggested, in order to keep the bigots from disrupting municipal business. Allowing the public to attend meetings from home eliminates barriers such as finding parking and child care. We should continue to promote public participation, and we cannot let the worst people among us dictate how we run our local government.

“Access to public meetings and that face-to-face, whether virtual or in-person, opportunity for the citizenry to talk to their elected officials is foundational to our democracy,” cautioned Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this year.

It’s a balancing act; elected officials do have an obligation to place limits on aggressive attempts to keep others from having their voices heard. The Portland City Council already has some measures in place and is developing others, as is Hallowell. Cities and towns should work together to see what rules and measures are most effective in keeping meetings civil, open and engaging for all.

And it is up to everyone with power and standing in our communities to speak out whenever bigots get too comfortable or too brazen. Councilors, selectmen and women, mayors and school board members – regardless of where they stand politically, local elected officials must present a united front against people who have views incompatible with a free and just society.


Portland City Councilor April Fournier, one of the targets of anonymous calls, shared on social media last week a letter she wrote to keep herself focused on the important work she and others do, despite the attacks. It contains a lot of wisdom for those faced with the same challenge.

“I will continue to do this work. I will continue to show up for my community. Whether we agree or disagree,” the letter reads. “I will continue to hold this space and create more space for the next generation that will come after me.”

We may not be able to change the minds of those who are lost in bigotry and can’t see how a diverse and inclusive society benefits all of us.

But good people can crowd them out – and prove them wrong.

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