An outgoing Republican lawmaker who sits on the Lincoln Town Council has shared — and since deleted — a Facebook meme that features the Confederate battle flag and challenges friends on the social media platform to repost the image.
In the meme, which Rep. Sheldon Hanington, R-Lincoln, shared from another Facebook page called “The Brotherhood,” the Rebel flag is shown beneath a written message stating that “we will not back down from our heritage,” according to a screen grab provided to the BDN.
Hanington did not respond to a phone call or emails seeking comment about the post, which was first reported by the Lincoln News.
In an email to that local newspaper, Hanington said that he is “most definitely NOT a racist” and the “meme did not incinuate [sic] that at all. It just said that those with heritage to this flag should fly it proudly.”
Hanington, a U.S. Army veteran, then went on to say that he served alongside “dozens of colored comrades that were from the south” who “were proud” of the Confederate flag, according to the email, which was shared with the BDN.
The term “colored” is considered outdated and offensive when referring to Black people. The Confederate flag is widely viewed as a racist symbol given its close association with the effort by southern states to preserve slavery during the Civil War and its ongoing use by white supremacist groups.
Hanington’s sharing of the meme comes as protests against racism and police violence that started with the videotaped killing of an unarmed black man by Minneapolis police officers last month continue across the nation. Those demonstrations are now prompting multiple U.S. communities to take down their Confederate monuments.
It’s not the first time Hanington has generated controversy. A year ago, he had an outburst on the Maine House floor, walking up to House Speaker Sara Gideon and shouting at her after she declined his request to meet in her office. At the time, he was accusing lawmakers of not doing enough to help veterans as they debated providing aid to asylum seekers. After Republican lawmakers walked him out, he later apologized to Gideon.
On Monday, Gideon, a Freeport Democrat, condemned Hanington’s sharing of the Facebook meme but did not respond to a question about whether he should be disciplined. Hanington is serving his third consecutive term in the House and not running for re-election this year.
“What we share on social media matters and has great potential to cause harm,” Gideon said in a statement. “Rep. Hanington’s post was inflammatory, and glorifies a symbol that represents a dark and painful time in our nation’s history. I ask all members of the Legislature to listen to communities of color and do the work necessary to create justice for all.”
House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, and a spokesman for the House Republicans did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The Lincoln Town Council has not taken any action to reprimand Hanington, whose council term ends next year, according to Town Manager Rick Bronson. Bronson declined to directly comment on Hanington’s sharing of the meme, but he added, “he may have a First Amendment right to say what he did: It still doesn’t make it a good thing to say.”
Town Council Chairperson George Edwards said last week that Hanington exercised poor judgment but was not racist, according to the Lincoln News. Edwards also said that he would never display the Confederate flag, which he associates with slavery, and compared it to Nazi symbols that Germans displayed during World War II.