Maine’s Republican governor echoed President Donald Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville conflict, assigning equal blame to white supremacists and counterprotesters who showed up to oppose a rally against removing a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
LePage said he “condemns both sides” of the uprising, adding they are “disgusting” and that “there’s no place for either of those groups in this country.”
LePage, in a fiery interview on WGAN, said he has taken criticism from Mainers in recent days for his delayed response to the events — which he said he didn’t know happened until Tuesday because he doesn’t watch television or read newspapers.
He angrily rebuked the notion that his silence on Charlottesville and Trump’s refusal to single out neo-Nazis for harsher criticism were tacit signs of support for white supremacist groups.
“I have been against the KKK before you knew they existed,” LePage said. “I get letters every day saying I support them. … It’s insulting when you’ve got guys like [Maine Democratic Party Chairman] Phil Bartlett coming around spewing this poison.”
On Wednesday, in the wake of Ku Klux Klan fliers reportedly being found in Boothbay Harbor, Bartlett said in a written statement that “actions like these are the direct result of leaders like Donald Trump, Paul LePage and Mary Mayhew who only embolden white supremacists by refusing to stand up and condemn their hateful actions and rhetoric.”
Trump, who has been the target of withering criticism for his response to the Charlottesville events, said during a Tuesday news conference that both sides of the conflict were equally to blame. LePage’s interview Thursday morning was similar.
“There’s no room for either of these organizations in the United States of America,” LePage said. As for white supremacists: “They believe they’re the super race and I despise them. We fought two world wars because of some of that attitude. It just upsets me so much that here in the United States of America, where we’re a diverse society, that people can start coming out of the woodwork and criticize other people for not coming out and condemning.”
In a response about whether Virginia law enforcement agencies, who have been criticized for not dispersing the crowds, reacted properly, LePage said his reaction would be different if similar violent clashes happened in Maine.
“I would tell you right away how I would react,” LePage said. “All guns ahead, boys. Take them out. I have no use for any of it. If they’re going to go into violence, my first advice to the Maine people is don’t gather in these large crowds. It’s not safe. When police officers are called and the National Guard are called, they’re called for a reason and they want to keep peace so stay away. If you choose to go in and battle, I will not be timid.”
LePage has faced criticism for what some have called racially charged comments at several times during his tenure. In January 2016, he unleashed a firestorm when he used racial terms to describe Maine’s drug problem, saying that drug traffickers from Connecticut and New York come to Maine and impregnate girls who are “young” and “white” before leaving the state.
In August 2016, he used similar framing when he made comments about black and Hispanic people coming to Maine to sell drugs. When a television reporter suggested that Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, called LePage a racist (Gattine did not), LePage exploded. He left Gattine a profanity-packed and threatening voicemail.
LePage’s take on opposition to removing Confederate statues also mirrored Trump, who made a “slippery slope” argument that removing statues of Confederate leaders like Lee would result in a call for the removal of monuments to Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, because they owned slaves.
On Thursday, LePage said both sides of the Virginia clashes are “equally bad,” including those who want to take down Confederate statues and monuments. He compared the movement to remove Confederate statues to a hypothetical call to take down memorials to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“They’re trying to erase history,” LePage said. “How can future generations learn if they erase history?”
CBS poll results released on Thursday found that 55 percent of Americans do not support Trump’s blaming both sides in the conflict, compared with 35 percent who said he reacted accurately.
This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.