AUGUSTA — Lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a proposed ban on unauthorized paramilitary activity, putting the bill in the hands of Gov. Janet Mills.

The proposal cleared the Senate in a 20-14 vote, the final legislative action needed for passage. It now faces a decision by Mills, who has not said whether she will sign the bill into law.

A group of masked men, shown here giving a Nazi salute, demonstrated outside the state Capitol in Augusta in August, chanting “refugees go home.” Photo courtesy of Lance Tapley

Mills has 10 days to sign or veto the bill, or it will become law without her signature. Her aides did not respond to questions Tuesday about the governor’s plans.

L.D. 2130 would ban paramilitary activity intended to create public disturbances or violence. It was sponsored by Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono, in response to a prominent neo-Nazi, who announced – and later canceled – plans to build a training camp for white supremacists in the rural northern Maine town of Springfield.

Attorney General Aaron Frey has said that state law does not allow prosecutors to prevent that kind of activity. The bill would allow the attorney general’s office to file for a court injunction to stop the activity and penalize anyone breaking the law with a Class D crime, which carries fines of $500 to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

Republicans have argued that the bill would infringe on First Amendment rights to free speech and association and their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. They argued that the standards in the bill are too vague, too subjective and could even be used to restrict Boy Scouts and American Legion events.


“I do worry about the unintended consequences of this,” said Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle.

Democrats pushed back, saying the law sets clear standards for banned paramilitary activity, which a court must determine is intended to cause civil disorder.

Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, said the proposal strikes the right balance between individual rights and public safety. She said the bill doesn’t restrict rallies or speech and would still allow people to express their own racism and intolerance.

“But behavior in furtherance of that intolerance and racism is what we’re prohibiting here,” Duson said. “And the threat is real, as a person from a family who has been the victim of a lynch mob. The threat is real. You don’t have to lynch somebody every day to completely terrorize a community for generations.”

Civil disorder 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 assembles 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.”

Two Democrats – Sens. Craig Hickman of Winthrop and Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth – joined unified Republicans to vote against the measure.

The bill squeaked through the House by a one-vote margin last week.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.