BRUNSWICK, Maine — A Lewiston-based anti-LGBT organization leading an effort to remove protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation from the Maine Human Rights Act has been identified as a hate group in the 2016 Hate Map released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Maine Resistance, led by former Christian Civic League of Maine director Michael Heath, joins two groups identified as being actively racist, according to the Alabama-based civil rights center. Those groups, Crew 38 and the Militant Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, operate statewide, according to the organization.
Heath of Chelsea, a longtime opponent of protections based on sexual orientation or identity, is leading a petition drive to force a statewide referendum that, if successful, would remove the words “sexual orientation” from the Maine Human Rights Act in numerous places where the act discusses protections for Mainers in place since 2005.
The group’s website identifies sex out of marriage as “wrong,” and it states, “Legal rights for individuals or groups who choose evil are special — especially evil — not equal.”
Listed on the website as advisers to the group, in addition to Heath, are Portland attorney Steve Whiting, Peter LaBarbera, Brian Camenker, the Rev. Dallas Henry, Scott Lively, Dave Daubenmire and the Rev. Chris Wilcoxson.
Heath did not return a call Friday seeking comment. Later Friday afternoon, Camenker called on his behalf.
“It’s only conservative, pro-family, tea party groups that are labeled hate groups and put on the map among Nazi and KKK groups so it looks like they’re all the same,” Camenker said. “Their only crime is having a conservative opinion … why is the Southern Poverty Law Center taken seriously? No one takes them seriously except the mainstream media. It’s so aggravating. If you have a different opinion, you get labeled a hate group by this stupid group in Alabama, and the mainstream media guys just lap it up.”
Matt Moonen, executive director of Equality Maine, an organization that advocates for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, on Thursday characterized Maine Resistance as “a fringe group of radical extremists led by Michael Heath.”
“In 2005 Maine voters made it very clear that they do not support discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Moonen said in a statement to the BDN, referring to the vote that rejected a people’s veto attempt to prevent the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class. “Michael Heath needs to accept the fact that this debate is over and move on; the rest of us already have.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center compiles a new Hate Map annually based on hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, “field sources” and news reports.
Spokesman Mark Potok said Thursday that information was not immediately available about what sources identified the three groups as active in Maine.
The 2016 Hate Map documents 917 hate groups in the United States, including 663 antigovernment “patriot” groups and 130 active Ku Klux Klan groups.
The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, named on fliers found in South Freeport driveways and other towns in January, was not listed on the map.
The center also found a 197 percent increase in the total number of anti-Muslim hate groups over the previous year, a surge attributed in part to “a presidential campaign that flirted heavily with extremist ideas.”
Hate groups are defined by the center as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center says it has documented “an explosive rise” in the number of hate groups since 2000, which accelerated when former President Barack Obama took office in 2009, then declined, and in the past two years has risen again.
Crew 38 also is active in New Hampshire, according to the list, as are five other groups: a racist skinhead group known as Eastern Hammerskins and the anti-Muslim Soldiers of Odin, both statewide; the anti-Muslim group ACT for America based in Nashua; and two radical traditional Catholic groups, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and IHM Media, both based in Richmond.