PORTLAND, Maine — One of Maine’s most controversial right-wing politicians was met with disdain by more than 100 protesters Thursday night as he delivered a talk at the University of Southern Maine claiming that Portland’s welcoming policies toward immigrants are endangering Mainers.
In a speech that included graphic descriptions of criminal and terrorist violence, Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, argued in support of a bill he is forwarding in an attempt to force Portland to end a policy that bars city officials from inquiring about people’s immigration status.
“These policies and practices have life and death consequences for the Maine people, and we’re not just talking about terrorist attacks,” Lockman told the crowd of roughly 150.
Lockman also framed public assistance for Maine’s immigrants and elderly as an either-or proposition and claimed that illegal immigration costs state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year.
The remarks were intermittently punctuated by applause and jeers from the crowd gathered in the college auditorium, which was roughly split between supporters and opponents of his message. The palpable tension at the event never rose past the level of raised voices, with civility being encouraged by the more than one dozen police officers in attendance.
Lockman’s speech, at the invitation of a conservative USM student group, came at a moment of deep anxiety in left-leaning Portland, and especially in its large immigrant community, which has been put on edge by President Donald Trump’s order temporarily banning immigration from seven majority Muslim countries and recent raids by immigration officials across the country. Trump’s order was suspended by a federal court, but he plans to issue a new order “in the near future,” according to a Department of Justice court filing.
Lockman previously said he only made the trip to Portland because students invited him, but his speech was the latest in a series of jabs Maine Republicans have made at the state’s liberal bastion in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election and victory in the 2nd Congressional District. In recent weeks the state GOP filed a public records request for the communications by the city’s superintendent of schools and Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly accused the city of breaking the law during radio addresses.
Before Lockman spoke, Nancy Griffin, USM vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, extolled the importance of the free exchange of ideas and the university’s mission to “teach students how to think, not what to think.”
But the speech and proceeding question-and-answer period did not appear to rise to the level of a meaningful exchange of ideas, with Lockman’s supporters and detractors intermittently booing and baiting each other throughout the hourlong event.
In his talk, Lockman cited Adnan Fazeli, the Iranian refugee who traveled to Lebanon to fight for the Islamic State in 2013, as support for his case that immigrants are putting Mainers at risk. But he was harshly criticized during the “question” period for neglecting to mention that Fazeli appears to have been radicalized while living in America and was reported to the FBI by his own brother, also an immigrant.
In a heated exchange with the lawmaker, Dr. Margaret Schoeller said it was actually Lockman’s inflammatory rhetoric that is endangering people.
“Do you not understand, sir, that you are part of the reason that violence is happening?” Schoeller said to boos from Lockman’s supporters.
The hostility between the two sides visibly frustrated student organizer Ben Bussiere, who said after the talk that American college education amounts to little more than “indoctrination.”
Following the event Bussiere walked swiftly from the lobby outside the auditorium as protesters shouted and danced behind him. He was followed closely by two police officers.