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Mark Worth represents District 13 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is minister emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, paramilitary organizations, private militias of the political left and right, were established in Germany to disrupt the rallies of political opponents and destabilize the German Weimar Republic. The Communist Red Front and the Nazi SA Storm Troopers battled one another in the streets. This political violence played a crucial role in the death of the Weimar Republic, and helped Adolf Hitler rise to power.
Because of the threat from private military organizations, all 50 states in the United States have laws against unauthorized militias from parading and drilling with firearms and uniforms in public.
On the other hand, Maine does have an authorized militia. Our state militia is the Maine National Guard. Other militias are illegal under state law.
But now, as reported by the Bangor Daily News, “a nationally known neo-Nazi is training his followers in militarized weapons and physical fitness at a site in Springfield.” The leader of the neo-Nazi group is “inviting white men drawn to his violent, neo-fascist ideology to come to Maine” according to an Aug. 7 article.
We know from history that these kinds of paramilitary groups are a threat to any democratic republic. We do not know for certain whether Maine’s current laws are strong enough to protect our state, and our republic, from this kind of militarized political extremism.
State Sen. Joe Baldacci has discussed drafting further legislation that might be needed to ban or restrict the kind of paramilitary training camp being built in Springfield. He has good reason to be concerned. Our legislative leaders in Augusta are also in discussion with one another and with Attorney General Aaron Frey.
Too often in my lifetime I have seen political violence on both the far right and far left. Like the Ku Klux Klan and the Weather Underground of the past, today’s neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups are a real threat to our state and our nation.
Protecting the democratic institutions of our republic cannot be a partisan issue. We must be united in our efforts to maintain public safety and our liberties under the Constitution.
The racist Nazi tyranny that took over Germany led to the Holocaust, and the more than 70 million deaths attributed to World War II. It is not so long ago. Some are still alive today who remember the horrors of that time.
We may think that it can’t happen here. But if we allow political terrorism and bigotry to fester and grow, we will all regret it. It is dangerous to tolerate the intolerance of hate groups, and even more dangerous to tolerate private paramilitary organizations. We must take a good look at current Maine laws to see whether they are sufficient, and strengthen the law if it is necessary.