A group of white supremacists gives the Nazi salute outside the state Capitol in Augusta in August, chanting “refugees go home.” Courtesy of Lance Tapley

A proposed ban on paramilitary activity that was inspired by a planned neo-Nazi training camp in a rural northern Maine narrowly won approval in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

It’s the second controversial bill in as many days to pass the House by a single vote. A proposal to have Maine join a group of states hoping to choose U.S. presidents based on the national popular vote passed by a one-vote margin Tuesday.

The bill that would ban paramilitary activity intended to create public disturbances or violence now heads to the Senate for final legislative approval. The Senate previously endorsed the proposal with a four-vote margin.

Gov. Janet Mills has not weighed in on whether she would sign the bill into law.

Thursday marked the third House debate on the bill. It passed by six votes in an initial vote, but 24 members were absent at the time. House Democrats abruptly tabled a second vote on the bill on Feb. 29, after realizing they didn’t have the votes to pass it.

On Thursday, Republicans urged Democrats to reject the bill, saying it was an unconstitutional overreaction to media reports of neo-Nazi activity in the state last summer. They argued that the bill would infringe on the First Amendment rights to free speech and association and Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, which under the Maine Constitution “shall never be questioned.”


Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, argued that those rights also extend to neo-Nazis – even if one disagrees with their message and stated goals.

“It’s is our duty to protect the Nazis’ right to free speech and association, as long as it does not infringe on someone else’s rights – as long as they are not harming someone else,” Libby said.

While Republicans argued that the bill’s standards for illegal activity were overly broad and vague, Democrats pushed back on assertions that the bill, L.D. 2130, could be used against groups like the Boy Scouts, American Legions, and firearm and self-defense instructors.

Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield, said that any allegations made against an individual or group would need to be proven in court.

“In any prosecution, a prosecutor needs to prove every single element of that crime beyond a reasonable doubt and here would be a knowing standard, which is the highest standard that a prosecutor must prove,” Hasenfus said.

If enacted, Maine would join 26 other states with similar laws, according to Jacob Glick, policy counsel with the Georgetown Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.


Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono, submitted the bill in response to efforts by Christopher Pohlhaus, a prominent neo-Nazi, to establish a paramilitary training center in the northern Maine town of Springfield. He later abandoned those plans amid public backlash that followed a Press Herald report on rising activity among hate organizations in Maine.

And in 2021, a group of armed men in uniforms calling themselves the Rise of the Moors was traveling to Maine with the stated goal of paramilitary training. That group was apprehended in Massachusetts after an armed standoff along Interstate 95. They did not have licenses to carry firearms in that state.

Attorney General Aaron Frey says Maine does not have an effective way to stop such activity.

Osher’s bill would allow the attorney general to seek a court order to stop such activity if the state can prove that a person is “intentionally or knowingly” using their training to cause civil disorder, which is defined as “any public disturbance involving an act of violence by a group of two or more persons that causes an immediate danger of injury to another person or damage to the property of another person or results in injury to another person or damage to the property of another person.”

A violation would occur if someone assembled two or more people, or instructs another person in “the use, application or making of a firearm, explosive or incendiary device capable of causing injury to or the death of, or techniques capable of causing injury to or the death of, another person if the person teaching, training or demonstrating intends or knows that the teaching, training or demonstrating is intended to be used by the other person in or in furtherance of civil disorder.”

Individuals could be charged with a Class D misdemeanor, which carries fines of $500 to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

Independent Rep. William Pluecker, of Warren, and four Democrats broke ranks to join Republicans in opposing the bill: Reps. Nina Milliken of Blue Hill; Maggie O’Neil, of Saco; David Sinclair, of Bath; and Sophia Warren, of Scarborough.

Independent Walter Riseman, of Harrison, who previously voted with Republicans against tabling the bill when Democrats didn’t have the votes, did not vote in the roll calls, despite having voted in roll calls earlier in the day.

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