The LePage administration confirmed today that Gov. Paul LePage had several meetings with members of a group tagged as a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI. The Sovereign Citizens, whose members reject taxes, U.S. currency, and believe that the U.S. government is illegitimate, say the governor met with their representatives for 16 hours during several sessions last year.
At one point, their conversation reportedly turned to suspected acts of treason by Democratic legislative leaders, who they said should be punished by hanging.
During the airing of a segment of the Aroostook Watchmen, a radio show broadcast on radio station WXME in February, an account of a meeting between Gov. Paul LePage and members of the Sovereign Citizens movement emerged in a conversation between show hosts Steve Martin and Jack McCarthy.
McCarthy, whose Sovereign Citizen ties include the Constitutional Coalition, says that he was at the State House to discuss the group's concerns with the governor. Among those topics, McCarthy says, was their belief that Democratic Maine Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves should both be tried for treason.
"And we also discussed this there, that as far as I know, the penalty for high treason hasn't changed in a hundred years, and I didn't say it, but the governor said it - I never opened my mouth and said the word - the governor looked at us and looked at his buddy and said, 'They're talking about hanging them,' " McCarthy said.
"That's right," Martin responded.
"I said, Praise the Lord - we'll hang a few and be done with this crap,' " McCarthy said.
These details and others are featured in a new book written by progressive activist Mike Tipping, the communications director for the Maine Peoples Alliance and can be found on the Web site, Talking Points Memo. Tipping's book, "As Maine Went," discusses how LePage courted the Republican tea party crowd to help win the governorship in 2010.
Among the various factions of the tea party movement are Sovereign Citizens, which Tipping says is allied with the Constitutional Coalition, believes that the government, led by Jewish leaders, is plotting a Christian holocaust that will be carried out once they have finally taken Americans' guns away.
Tipping, who says he has found many of LePage's prior statements and actions hard to believe, was amazed that the group claimed to have held more than 16 hours of one-on-one discussions with the governor over the last year.
"He definitely put a lot of effort and a lot of stock into these meetings, and the kind of things that they talked about are just pretty insane," Tipping says.
Even more astonishing is the high level of concern that those around the governor had about his meeting with the Constitutional Coalition. Tipping says the level of anxiety is reflected in a series of e-mails between staff on the subject that he obtained by making a Freedom of Information request.
"It's interesting looking through these Freedom of Access documents and seeing his staff trying to convince him not to meet with and believe these people," Tipping says. "I mean, it's just very strange, disappointing and a little scary all around."
"It just talks about governor LePage and his choices," says Maine Senate President Justin Alfond. "He chooses to associate himself with an organization that uses the threat of violence, and violence, to meet their goals."
Maine Senate President Justin Alfond says that both he and House Speaker Mark Eves were shocked by the governor's willingness to entertain a group associated with domestic terrorists. He said the Maine State Police were notified after Democratic leaders heard about the treason charges and execution plans, but no public statements about it were made.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage's press secretary, says the timing of the Sovereign Citizens report story is more than a little suspect, as the governor is seeking reelection in November.
"We're not even into the month of July and we're hearing this political rhetoric from Democrats, and clearly they have already jumped the shark," Bennett said.
The expression "jump the shark" comes from a later episode of the '70s TV sitcom Happy Days, and refers to any desperate effort to use gimmicks to keep viewers engaged.
Bennett says LePage did meet with members of Sovereign Citizens during regular constituent sessions and in some private meetings. She ways she's not aware of any discussions involving treason charges against Democratic leaders.
And she confirmed that the governor's staff had made a concerted effort to dissuade LePage from meeting with members of the group. As to whether the governor has any plans for future meetings with the Sovereign Citizens, Bennett simply says: "Not to my knowledge,"
The Maine Republican Party says LePage has had a mercurial relationship with the Sovereign Citizens, with the group at times supporting him and at other times attacking him.