Matthew Laue, a 21-year-old who calls himself “Proprietor Mutt,” recently claimed to have started a Bucksport Bay White Youth Pride Party. Neighbors stood up in opposition to this hate group and were appalled at how it could have taken root in their community.
It turns out the truth is far more confusing: The existence of the hate group was a hoax, Laue now says. Recent comments from Laue have done little to eliminate the confusion. Indeed, he seems befuddled himself.
Traveling throughout the state and working with Civil Rights Teams in our communities, I know that the people of Maine don’t want an organized hate group here in our state. There is a great temptation to accept Laue’s explanation that this was all an ill-conceived publicity stunt, designed to create community discussion, but we cannot afford to dismiss this incident completely. We can no more accept such actions as a hoax than we could accept a real hate group operating in our state.
Laue claims that his extreme tactics were the only way he could have his voice heard and that creating a fictitious racist extremist group was merely a way to start a conversation. And of course, he says he’s not a racist.
What is so disheartening about Laue’s claim is how common and predictable this line of defense has become. The Civil Rights Team Project actively works in schools to increase the safety of all Maine students. We see firsthand the damage done to students who are harassed and discriminated against. When offending students are asked about their bullying and harassing behaviors, the No. 1 excuse they offer is that they were “just joking around.” These “jokes” hurt, and the “just kidding” defense does nothing to ameliorate the damage they can cause.
It is important that we do not dismiss Proprietor Mutt and his Bucksport Bay White Youth Pride Party as just a harmless hoax. Regardless of Laue’s intentions, he caused real damage. I can’t imagine what the students of color at Bucksport High School thought and felt when they were led to believe that a local white supremacist group was actively recruiting in their school. They must have felt insulted, at the very least, and very likely unsafe as well.
The same goes for people of color in Bucksport and Hancock County and the whole state. News of a potential white supremacist group had an effect throughout the state, causing feelings of worry, disgust, shame and most important, fear. That feeling of fear is exactly what hate groups strive to create. Whether the Bucksport group was real or not, it had the effect of causing fear in communities of color. It did exactly what a hate group does.
Thankfully, the people of Maine responded in opposition. The public, the police and the Attorney General’s Office took the threat seriously. Bucksport High School organized rallies and speakers. Readers flooded newspapers and online forums with strong words defending tolerance and acceptance for all Maine people.
Perhaps Laue will take credit for this positive response, as he “created” the dialogue. But there are other and more productive ways to initiate a community discussion about racial and ethnic diversity. Earlier this month there was a symposium on the use of Native American names and mascots in Maine schools. Weeks earlier, more than 1,200 Maine students gathered in Augusta for the Maine Civil Rights Team Project annual spring conference. Both events are examples of how Maine communities are able to talk about race without inciting fear.
In talking about race and other differences among Maine people, we always come back to a very simple idea: No one should ever live in fear because of who they are. Fear does not belong in our state. Laue’s prank has no place in Maine.
Brandon Baldwin is the schools-curriculum coordinator for the Maine Civil Rights Team Project, which is run out of the Office of the Attorney General.