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Maine House gives initial approval to bill banning paramilitary training camps

Christopher Pohlhaus, founder of the neo-nazi Blood Tribe, yells "Sieg Heil" with Blood Tribe members at a March protest in Ohio.
Ford Fischer
News2Share via Bangor Daily News
Christopher Pohlhaus, founder of the neo-nazi Blood Tribe, yells "Sieg Heil" with Blood Tribe members at a March protest in Ohio.

The Maine House of Representatives gave initial approval to a bill designed to prohibit paramilitary training camps. The proposal is a response to an effort by a national neo-Nazi group to build a training facility in northern Penobscot County that has since been abandoned.

The proposal attempts to ban training in firearms or explosives if that instruction is intended to cause "civil disorder." But opponents say that it violates the constitutional freedom of assembly and the Second Amendment.

The ACLU of Maine also expressed concerns even though the penalty for violating the prospective law has been downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Republican state Rep. Amy Arata, of New Gloucester, said she co-sponsored the measure hoping to do something about what she described as the detestable migration of neo-Nazis in Springfield last summer.

But she said the resulting bill was a dangerous infringement on civil liberties that are even granted to groups that would deny those rights to others.

"The last neo-Nazi training group left because Mainers made them feel unwelcome here. And if we have to, we can do it again in the future without a new law," she said.

The proposal narrowly cleared an initial vote, 66-60, with five Democrats joining Republicans in opposing it. There were 24 lawmakers absent, which means the bill's fate could change in subsequent votes.

The bill, which is modeled after laws in Vermont and other states, would not apply to law enforcement or anyone receiving instruction in self-defense, for military service or as part of an educational institution's military component.

It also could not be applied to instruction or training in firearms for any legal recreational activity, such as hunting or target shooting.

It now moves to the Senate.

White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups have been making headlines around New England for several years with hostile rallies targeting immigrants, minority groups and the LGBTQ community. But alarms went off in Maine last summerafter the leader of one national neo-Nazi group bought land in rural Springfield and began building a camp with his followers.

The white supremacist leader who prompted the headlines last summer has since reportedly sold the property, apparently in response to the reaction from local residents.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.