LePage fails the test of Charlottesville

Saturday. Nothing.

Sunday. Nothing.

Monday. Nothing.

Tuesday. It’s bad. It’s not my problem.

That was Gov. Paul LePage’s reaction to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

For LePage, his silence speaks as loud as his usual bluster.

Speaking on the radio Tuesday morning, LePage broke his silence when questioned by the hosts.

“My heart goes out to the families of the injured,” he said. “I feel it’s a horrific act.”

Then he went on: “It’s an issue that happened in Virginia and I think Virginia authorities should be dealing with it. I just hope it never happens in Maine again.”

This just isn’t good enough.

Christian Yingling of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12. REUTERS/Justin Ide

The problem of militarized racists carrying torches, Confederate and Nazi flags, parroting the words of Hitler, threatening people of color and Jews, killing one and injuring many more – that’s not just a problem for Virginia. That’s a problem for the entire country.

One of the lead organizers of the events in Virginia has ties to Maine, and there’s been an uptick of Ku Klux Klan activities in Maine, with flyers left at homes around the state.

The rest of Maine’s political leaders get it.

US Sen. Susan Collins wrote: “The violence in Charlottesville is domestic terrorism. Hatred, racism, and bigotry have no place in our country.

US Sen. Angus King, who attended law school in Charlottesville, also took a strong position. “Actions of hate groups in Virginia are unacceptable and un-American and have no place anywhere in our country.”

US Reps. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, and Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, were also strong, as was the chair of the Maine Republican Party.

It was a strong, across the board refutation of white supremacy and hatred.

Except for LePage.

The governor’s silence and then his weak words are hollow and borderline meaningless. LePage has shown himself perfectly willing to get involved – and make legal arguments – about issues in Virginia when it’s suited his ultra-conservative agenda.

In 2015, the governor signed on to a brief in a Virginia lawsuit arguing against allowing a transgender boy to use the appropriate bathroom at his school.

The governor of the state of Maine has no hesitation about joining in on the bullying of a transgender teen, using the power of his office to argue against the boy’s rights. But when it comes to white supremacists, he’s more measured.

The governor’s checkered history offers all the explanation I need.

In 2016, he’s used the racist trope of criminals coming to Maine to “impregnate a young white girl.”

Also last year, LePage blamed Maine’s opioid and drug problems on people of color: “the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

He’s attacked immigrants, with similar long-living racist stereotypes, accusing them of carrying infectious disease and dehumanizing them by referring to people as “illegals.”

Then, after wrongly saying that 90 percent of drug dealers that the governor, himself, had been tracking in a binder were black or Hispanic, LePage proposed a vigilante solution: “I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry,” which means an adult can carry a gun without a permit. “Load up and get rid of the drug dealers.”

In a frightening report by VICE News reporter Elle Reeve, we hear from the Virginia racists in their own voices, we hear the Nazi-like chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”

One organizer, Christopher Cantwell, is clear in his hatred of people of color, calling them savages, and about his hatred of Jews. He goes on: “I’m carrying a pistol and I go to the gym all the time. I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence.”

Cantwell, by the way, is from Keene, New Hampshire.

In the heat of the riot, Robert Ray, who’s identified as a neo-Nazi and part of the Daily Stormer website, describes the political leadership in Charlottesville: “Jewish communists and criminal n*ggers.”

“We’re not non-violent,” Cantwell says, after, straight to the camera. “We’ll f*cking kill these people if we have too.”

There aren’t “many sides” to this fight. There is right, and there is wrong.

This isn’t a problem somewhere else. It’s a problem everywhere. And in the words of these violent extremists, this is only the beginning. They are organizing and they hope to take their fight to other towns and cities.

One woman is dead. Pray to goodness that there are no more. Cantwell said Heather Heyer’s death “was justified.” It was an act of terrorism, justified by an extremist.

This is a test our country cannot fail.

We depend upon our political leaders – regardless of party – to stand up to hate and racism. No more racist dog whistles. No more winks toward bigotry. No more nods toward violence.

Throughout his time in office, LePage has let the people of this state down. Given the chance to offer moral leadership, to do the right thing, he failed.

The rest of us – each one of us – we have to do better.

Editor’s note: A Reuters photo caption that originally ran with this column has been updated to remove the term “white supremacists.” We believe the term to be an inaccurate characterization of Christian Yingling.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.