Everywhere Phil Merletti goes, he carries a hefty black leather case in each hand. He said the boxes are weighted just right. They give him balance.
Inside those boxes are stacks of paper that would make even ardent scholars groan. Legal documents, symposium outlines, copies of letters to and from Maine legislators, a constitutional course curriculum, remonstrances and, of course, sections of both the U.S. and Maine constitutions.
One way or another, all things lead back to the constitutions.
Wayne Leach has a similar setup, although he’s more prone to carrying his various folders and paperwork loose, a stack of it under each arm.
“We’re researchers,” Merletti said. “Talk is cheap. I never said anything unless I can prove it.”
Both men sacrifice sleep and leisure time because they spend so much time researching the laws of the land, and over the past week they’ve had to work even harder. Ever since the media got wind of a link between their Constitutional Coalition and the Maine governor, they’ve taken extra pains to have all their facts in order.
That link is an important one. The two men said Gov. Paul LePage was fascinated by the information they shared with him — the unconstitutional laws, the sneaky legislative moves, the outright abuses of Maine and federal law.
LePage was horrified by it all, they said. He was ready to act. Then a Maine liberal activist publicized the governor’s conversations with what was described as a “domestic terrorist group” and the foul-smelling stuff hit the fan.
LePage backpedaled, they said, admitting that he spoke with coalition members but insisting that he didn’t buy much of what they were selling, in spite of the 12 hours he had spent with them.
Leach and Merletti haven’t yet given up on the governor. They hope he’ll come around and do the right thing. In their way, they feel bad for LePage because he’s so heavily influenced by the lawyers who surround him — a group they call “the gatekeepers.”
As for Mike Tipping, the liberal activist? They don’t feel bad for him very much at all.
“This is going to backfire on him,” Merletti said, “in many ways. The first way is, what’s happening right now is that people are aware that we’re out there fighting for them.”
For one thing, the coalition put together a remonstrance, a document they said outlines the abuses to the constitutions by various politicians over decades. With those documents in hand, the two men tried to convince lawmakers and others to consider these abuses and to take steps to repair the damage.
“We put the remonstrance in so that we could have a dialogue,” Merletti said, “and have a meeting.”
“We almost begged them to respond in some fashion, either negatively or positively,” Leach said. “They were just silent. They didn’t even said no. They refused to even recognize that we even existed. That’s a slap in the face for people who have worked months.”
When Tipping wrote his story, the headline read: ” Gov. LePage met with, encouraged, Sovereign Citizen extremists.”
“During these meetings,” Tipping wrote, “the governor and the sovereigns (calling themselves the ‘Constitutional Coalition’) discussed a wide range of conspiracy theories, mostly related to their belief that the federal and state governments are illegitimate and that federal officials and the United Nations are preparing for a genocidal attack on Christian Americans.”
‘We’re going to come out smelling like a rose’
The portrayal of the men as wild-eyed conspiracy theorists — and potential threats to national security — stung a little. Worse, said Merletti, Tipping got many facts wrong and entirely misrepresented the work they do. Tipping boldly declared that there was talk of hanging a pair of Maine politicians as traitors.
Merletti and Leach vehemently denied making any such statements. They have been told that on behalf of their four-person coalition, they should sue for defamation.
“I don’t want to go that far,” Merletti said. “That’s a pain in the neck. We don’t need that distraction.”
Instead, he almost lovingly reaches a hand toward one of the big black cases sitting next to him on the floor.
“This is the reason why, when I go somewhere, this is what comes with me,” he said. “What I did was I packed this material to answer Tipping.”
He doesn’t want to sue Tipping, perhaps, but there is bitterness about the way he was characterized. With that in mind, Merletti points to the far end of the room.
“Now,” he said, “if we were to put Tipping down in that corner, the four of us here and Gov. LePage there, we could end this in five minutes and then we could find out who’s lying.”
“Five or 10 minutes,” Leach agreed. “Tops. I don’t even think it would take that long.”
“When the dust settles here,” Merletti said, “we’re going to come out smelling like a rose.”
Those could be construed as fighting words, maybe, but that’s about as feisty as the men get. There is no talk of shooting or hanging or overthrowing anything. The only weapon Merletti and Leach seem to embrace is knowledge, the facts they gather through law libraries, government websites and the constitutions themselves.
“Do we look like terrorists?” Leach asks, half a minute after being led into a Sun Journal conference room. “Are you afraid to be in here with us?”
He has a point. At 76, Leach isn’t a man who would cause you to protectively scoop up your child or cross to the other side of the street. He’s affable and prone to cracking jokes every now and then to lighten the mood. For more than two decades, he’s been studying the constitutions of both Maine and the nation, discovering the many ways that, he said, both have been violated over the decades.
Leach has spent most of his life toiling — working in shoe shops and tanneries mostly, but filling out his resume in a variety of ways. He’s worked in hot top, in chickens and as a trucker hauling potatoes, logs and beans. He’s been in flooring, he’s owned and managed apartments, he’s worked in the swimming pool business. He’s worked in bookstores, cleaned toilets and labored as a diesel mechanic.
He’s been married twice and has four children. He studied to become a paralegal and he’s written four books of poetry. He ran for state Senate as a Libertarian in early 1992, but one of his main opponents was Mickey Marden, owner of Marden’s discount stores. Leach said that if he’d known Marden was running, he wouldn’t have bothered.
Merletti is, for the most part, all business. He has his paperwork and his facts, and he likes to dole them out in proper order. That’s what he was doing for the governor, he said, before things got crazy.
An avuncular fellow, Merletti spent 26 years in the National Guard and worked as a machinist and toolmaker. For a time, he worked out of the Maine Correctional Center as a foster parent, taking in kids who had the choice between foster homes and prison.
There is nothing menacing about the men. They laugh a little when reminded of the “terrorist” label, although there are signs of bitterness.
“What terrorist would create a curriculum for the sheriff’s department?” Merletti asked with a tone of exasperation.
Because that’s what they’ve been doing, for the most part. The coalition has created a sort of study guide on the Maine Constitution, offering to teach the material to sheriffs’ departments. Why? Because, they said, most sheriffs’ department personnel they’ve talked to haven’t even read the document to which they are required to swear an oath.
Merletti and Leach have been working so closely together, they’ve reached the point where they often finish one another’s sentences. If Merletti can’t come up with a fact off the top of his head, chances are Leach can. And if not, he’ll produce a half-pound of paperwork with all the information they need.
“He’s my brain,” Merletti said of his cohort. “He’s a dying breed. We both are.”
They said they are nonpartisan. Together, they set up a half-dozen symposiums throughout the state, attempting to get everyone on the same page with the aim, they said, of restoring the Maine Constitution to its former glory.
“We did that essentially to bring in both Democrats and Republicans and independents and bring them under the same roof as the incumbent legislators and the candidates who are running up against them,” Merletti said.
The idea was for everyone to grasp the importance of the Constitution and to recognize the many times it has been violated. From there? Changes.
According to law, they said, anything that is found to be “repugnant” to the Constitution must be declared null and void. In the vision of the Constitutional Coalition, this organized group could begin looking at what amendments were unlawful or repugnant and which, thus, should be rendered void.
‘Everybody is backing off’
Whether Tipping’s report and the ensuing coverage will grind those efforts to a halt remains to be seen.
“Once that Tipping thing hit, everybody is backing off,” Merletti said. “I think the word is out: Don’t mess with those terrorists. Don’t mess with these guys anymore.”
If the governor was listening to the coalition, it may be because they bring eye-opening information — and proof, they said — about corruptions to the Maine Constitution. When Merletti reaches into one of his battered black cases, he said he can show, for instance, how sly changes were made, taking power out of the hands of a citizen council and putting that power into the hands of lawmakers.
They said they can demonstrate unlawful moves that should render several amendments void by law. They can name names. They can spell out a pattern of abuses dating back many decades.
Instead, the governor is in defensive mode and the Constitutional Coalition is feeling the effects.
“I’ve already asked LePage to stop the act of throwing us under the bus,” Merletti said. “We gave him information that was unbelievable. He understood exactly what we were showing him.”
What they showed the governor, they said, was that illegal alterations to the Constitution could be reversed if LePage were to use the Supreme Court maxims on the matter.
Is it too late to go that route, the men wonder? Have things gone too far since the Tipping revelations?
“Now,” Merletti said in his slow, methodical manner, “who controls the governor?”
When no answer is forthcoming, he answers the question himself.
“The lawyers,” he said. “The thing they never wanted LePage to do was to be in contact with the outside. They set up three layers of fences around him, with gatekeepers. The only people who got through those gates was through them.”
When the coalition met with LePage, it was directly, Merletti said. No lawyers, no gatekeepers. The flow of information was unrestrained.
“That’s why the lawyers didn’t want us talking to him,” Merletti said, “because we were bringing this stuff to light. The man is controlled.”
A strange pause follows. Both Merletti and Leach admit what most Mainers have come to understand: Gov. Paul LePage is not the type of fellow who will willingly allow himself to be manipulated. He’s been called stubborn. Headstrong.
Merletti said: “Let’s go dark, OK? Is it possible that he was threatened? Is it possible that his wife was threatened? Is it possible his daughter was threatened? In this day and age, can we trust anything? What we do know is that we broke through the gatekeepers and they weren’t happy.”
What they would like is for the governor to “link arms with us” and to get about the business of restoring the Maine Constitution back to an earlier form — the kind of constitution Maine people deserve, in their view.
And if that is not the road taken?
FEMA, United Nations, martial law
The bleak things coalition members speak of can, they say, no longer be described as conspiracy theories. Things like United Nations land grabs and encroachments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are backed up by easily accessible documentation, they say.
The threat of martial law, once seen as an idea embraced only by people who wear tinfoil hats, is likewise more legitimate, they say, in light of the many laws passed since Sept. 11. They point to the Patriot Act, for starters, and President Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act.
In recent years, other laws have been quietly passed, they say, that deepen the power of the government to imprison its own people, take over roads, property and resources, and, yes, to declare the U.S. Constitution void, in the name of national security.
Although, Leach, Merletti and other coalition members are mostly focused on Maine at the moment, they see the problems here as having broader implications. National implications.
“It affects everybody,” Leach said.
Merletti is quick to say that Maine’s top leaders, including that circle of lawyers around the governor, get their marching orders from Washington, D.C. And while the coalition members feel that more people seem to be waking up to the knowledge of rampant government abuses, the question for them remains: Are there enough people waking up? And is there still time to make things right?
“If you said all this to everybody in the state of Maine, would they understand?” Merletti asked. There may be thousands of people right here in Maine who understand that bad things have happened and that it’s only getting worse, Merletti said.
“But, it just isn’t enough,” he continued, answering his own question.
Because, he said, the abuses coming down on us all are almost too big for us to see. Things like Agenda 21, a U.N. initiative to take over land and depopulate massive chunks of the country, including dozens of towns right here in Maine. That plan, they say, masquerades as “sustainable development,” and like everything the coalition members address, they offer plenty of documentation to prove it.
Things like the militarization of police departments from one end of the country to the other, and the expanding powers of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.
“Homeland Security is moving into Maine,” Merletti said. “So is FEMA.”
The men envision the president ordering martial law, which would nullify the Constitution and endow the government with nearly unlimited powers. All it would take, they say, is one crisis — real or manufactured — to make that happen.
So, Merletti said, they asked LePage and Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty: “if an incident like that happens, are you willing to rescind that martial law order and say, ‘We’ll take care of it ourselves?'”
‘Not on my watch’
The men say that when LePage heard of the possibility of martial law being declared, and Homeland Security replacing local police here, he responded: “Not on my watch.”
They say they also discussed the myriad ways an average citizen these days can be deemed a potential domestic threat or a “sovereign citizen.”
Do you have a religious symbol on the back of your car? A bumper sticker that declares “I love the U.S. Constitution” or something to that effect? That would do it, Merletti said. These days, he said, you can be declared a terrorist for uttering sentiments that would have been considered patriotic at one time.
More frightening, they said, is that police are being trained to think that way. In a time where even college campus security teams are getting tanks from the U.S. government, coalition members said the police state is close, if not already here, and should frighten citizens.
Police trainers, Merletti said, are now teaching recruits that there are two sides: law enforcement and the general population — the sovereign citizens.
“Then they come along and they explain what the sovereign citizen is,” Merletti said. “Then they explain all the terrorist acts that went on in this country and they connect the sovereign citizen movement with the people.”
For two hours, the men talk about these things. They illustrate the gradual erosion of citizen rights on both a state and federal level. They talk about things that have happened, things that are yet to occur and things that should be done to halt the calculated march toward complete global takeover.
They said they talked to the governor about these things, too, and he was rapt. But then Tipping wrote his piece, the work of the coalition was misconstrued and the flap has been nonstop, they said.
The question for the men is a heavy one: Will LePage succumb to the pressures of politics as usual? Or will he stand up, admit there’s a problem and join the fight?
There are no signs that Leach and Merletti are going to give up, at any rate. There’s too much at stake, they said. And in its way, the controversy has proven beneficial, they said — many people appear to be listening who weren’t listening before.
“No matter how much bad press we’ve gotten,” Merletti said, “it’s opened the door to a podium.”
Before the start of the week, very few had heard of the Constitutional Coalition. Not that the group hadn’t tried to get its message out to the people — where some may have been given the impression that the coalition is a secretive group, the men said the opposite is true.
“We were begging the news media to follow us around,” Leach said.
When they put in their first remonstrance, at the start of 2013, they contacted pretty much all media outlets in the state of Maine, Merletti said. Nobody showed up.
“Had they showed up then,” he said, “this would not be new news.”
Now, an independent lawmaker has requested that Maine’s attorney general investigate LePage’s meeting with the Constitutional Coalition to determine whether they “discussed violence against top Democratic lawmakers during a series of meetings last year.” In a Bangor Daily News report on that development, the reporter described the coalition as “a group of radical activists.”
If Leach and Merletti are radical activists, they hide it well on this day. When the meeting was over, they slowly shuffled their paperwork together, tucked it into their various cases and bags, and shuffled off toward the door. With their tired eyes and methodical, almost plodding style, they look a lot like the researchers they claim to be. The men want to be remembered, they say, not as half-crazed radicals, but as honest people who earnestly believe that the people of Maine — and of the U.S. at large — deserve better.
“This is not about us, our ego, fame or fortune,” Leach said, “but only for posterity.”
For audio of the interview, read the story at sunjournal.com.