October 18, 2018
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Bid by Maine lawmaker to label neo-Nazis as terrorists stalls

Steve Helber | AP
Steve Helber | AP
In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, file photo, white nationalist demonstrators walk into the entrance of Lee Park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A resolution to label members of neo-Nazi groups as terrorists has been tabled by a panel of legislative leaders after Republican leaders objected to voting on it Thursday.

Rep. Maureen Fitzgerald Terry, D-Gorham, proposes that the Maine Legislature approve and send a resolution to Congress urging the change. Her proposal came during the Legislative Council’s deliberations Thursday about whether to allow several bills to move forward for consideration when the House and Senate reconvene in January.

During her testimony, Terry grouped neo-Nazis with the Ku Klux Klan and ISIS.

“The goal of these groups is to create alliances of hatred against certain groups of people,” Terry said. “Depending on the agenda of these organizations, we can all be considered in danger of being on the receiving end of their violent behavior.”

The 10-person council, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, took an extended break to discuss the matter in private. When it reconvened, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, opposed the resolution advancing, for now.

“Obviously this is a subject of discussion that is important to everybody. Nobody wants to send the wrong message,” Thibodeau said. “Nobody wants to in any way suggest that what has gone on, particularly in Virginia, was OK.”

Thibodeau said he wanted time for himself and legislative leaders to review the proposal more completely before holding a vote to let the resolution move forward to debate in the full Legislature. Resolutions typically appear for consideration in daily House and Senate calendars when the Legislature is active. Their language does not go through a committee vetting process beforehand like regular bills do, which is why Thibodeau said he wanted to slow down the process.

“We’re wanting to find something that we can all agree on,” said Thibodeau.

Terry’s proposal comes amid heightened racial tensions in the United States. In August, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Virginia turned violent, leaving one woman dead and dozens injured when a driver intentionally rammed into a crowd of protesters. Two first responders who were monitoring the events also died in a helicopter crash.

The events captured international headlines and ensnared political figures such as President Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage, who were criticized for their refusal to denounce the rally’s organizers without also denouncing the counter-protesters.

Maine is not the only state to consider a measure like Terry’s. The Illinois General Assembly considered a similar resolution aimed at law enforcement agencies after the August rally. It passed in the Senate.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said she is hoping for quick action on the resolution but agreed to allow more time for Thibodeau and others to review the proposal. The vote to leave the resolution tabled was 8-2 with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash and Assistant Minority Leader Nate Libby of Lewiston opposed.

Terry’s resolution was one of two bills spurred by recent tragedies that the council left tabled — with the same split — on Thursday. Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, proposed a bill to outlaw the purchase or possession of bump stocks, devices that effectively make semi-automatic weapons fire as quickly as automatic weapons. Bump stocks were found on some of the weapons used by a shooter in Las Vegas who opened fire on a concert crowd in October, killing 58 people.

For a roundup of today’s Maine political news, click here for the Daily Brief. Click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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