September 19, 2018
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Maine school board member resigns after social media posts called racist

Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Sipa USA | TNS
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Sipa USA | TNS
An illustration of Facebook's logo. A member of the RSU 13 school board resigned after complaints were raised about his Facebook and Twitter postings, which some deemed racist.
By Callie Ferguson, BDN Staff
Updated:

A member of a western Maine school board resigned Thursday after parents complained about his social media posts that targeted Muslims, denigrated black people and warned of “white genocide.”

Robert “Bob” Celeste of Harrison stepped down before completing the final year of his three-year term on the RSU 17 school board. In resigning, Celeste told Superintendent Richard Colpitts that he wanted to spend what “time I have left” completing a translation of the Bible from ancient Greek and Hebrew. Celeste said he has stage-four cancer.

Celeste told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that his resignation “had nothing to do with the fools that say, ‘That’s racist.’ They can’t even define ‘racist.’”

He declined to describe his political views generally, but asked, “Is there anything wrong with protecting the white race?”

He also said “born-again Christians should not be putting their kids in a public school” where they are taught “lies” and “that racism is anyone that disagrees with Islam.”

Four days earlier, a handful of parents called for Celeste’s ouster at a school board meeting because of statements on his Facebook and Twitter accounts that they considered racist, xenophobic and hateful, according to Colpitts. Celeste was not at the March 5 meeting because of an unrelated health issue, Colpitts said.

One of Celeste’s posts that upset parents pictured the text “To all Muslims: the USA has the highest concentration of Armed Christians in the world, just in case you forget,” set against an image of a gun firing a bullet. It was posted in November 2015, days after the terrorist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Paris, France, and Celeste called on Mainers to arm themselves against “Obamites” coming to Maine.

Another Celeste post showed a white woman wagging her finger at a young, blond girl and saying, “Listen to mommy. Never betray your race.” Another called for stopping “white genocide.”

One of Celeste’s critics, Leisha Petrovich of South Paris, said, “We don’t have a problem with free speech, but what we do have a problem with is the power he had on the school board.”

She compared Celeste to Tom Kawczynski, who in January lost his job as town manager of Jackman over his advocacy of racial segregation.

Colpitts, who was unaware of the Celeste’s posts until last week, said he didn’t agree with Celeste’s views but that he did not have the authority to remove an elected member of the school board.

Celeste was one of Harrison’s two representatives on the board and was elected unopposed.

At board meetings, Celeste didn’t talk about race, according to Colpitts. Instead, Celeste often voiced disdain for public schools and the teaching of evolution.

Celeste’s opinions were very much in the minority of the 22-person board, Colpitts said.

The Bangor Daily News works with the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica to document hate crimes, which often go unreported. If you have a hate crime to report, use our form below. The incidents will be shared with partners in the Documenting Hate project but not with police.

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