Rising tide of white nationalism prompts free speech debate at USM

Rising tide of white nationalism prompts free speech debate at USM

The normalization of bigotry in the wake of Trump’s election has taken new heights. Nationally-known racist, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been confirmed as Attorney General and Steven Bannon, a white nationalist, has been given significant power in the new White House. Locally, we’ve seen harassment from the KKK in several communities and Maine’s largest, most diverse university has now given a platform to a fear-mongering bigot and a student group whose parent organization is monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On February 16th at 7 p.m., the “Young Americans for Freedom” will host an event at the University of Southern Maine called “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis.” The national YAF organization is closely watched by the Southern Poverty Law Center and members across the country are known to have Neo-Nazi ties.

The thinly-veiled white nationalist event next Thursday will include commentary from Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst, Maine.

“If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.” -Larry Lockman

Lockman is known in Maine politics for his outrageous, dishonest, and bigoted viewpoints. In the 80s and 90s, he stoked the flames of fear around HIV/AIDS, spread misinformation, and targeted HIV-positive school children. In 1995, he led the fight against Maine’s anti-discrimination law and spoke passionately about his disdainful views on sodomy. He has also encouraged people to cheat on their taxes, compared rape favorably with abortion and made abhorrent and misguided comments about race in Maine.

“When I see a twenty-something black guy decked out in bling grocery-shopping with a chubby white girl in Bangor, my educated guess is that he’s a drug dealer from New York, and she’s a native Mainer welfare queen.” -Larry Lockman

Recently, Lockman has been spreading fears about “ISIS” in Maine and has put immigrants in his crosshairs, much as he did the the LGBTQ community in the past. The small-government conservative recently drafted legislation to the compel communities to cooperate with the federal government on measures targeting immigrants.

On Wednesday, Students for #USMfuture – a student activist group – called on university president Glenn Cummings to cancel the event due to the extreme and dehumanizing nature Lockman’s worldview.

Students for #USMfuture’s concerns do not come as a surprise, as USM is Maine’s most diverse college, where many immigrants and the children of immigrants attend. The group cited a particular concern over the hate crime that recently happened at Casco Bay High School, fearing that the event might inspire similar violence.

President Cummings declined to cancel the event, but sharing the group’s fear of violence has required Ben Bussiere, the chairperson of Young American for Freedom, to pay for security. Cummings said that the event is a “risk to public safety.”

In a public statement, Cummings said that “as a university[…] it is imperative that we respect freedom of expression and opposing viewpoints”. In the spirit of the First Amendment, such sentiment seems appropriate. But in a rising tide of hate, it also feels to many like an extension of the recent normalization of hate and white nationalism in America.

“They [homosexuals] are dying because progressive, enlightened, tolerant people in politics and in medicine have assured the public that the practice of sodomy is a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.” -Larry Lockman

To what extent should we allow freedom of speech to become an incubator for violence, particularly with the genocidal undertones within the so-called “Alt-Right” movement? At what point are we responsible for snuffing out the embers of hate despite our commitment to freedom? Our answers to these questions may determine whether or not we repeat history.

Photo: USM students and community members march against violence in 2014. via Flickr/Corey Templeton.

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Teddy Burrage
Teddy Burrage 8 posts

Teddy Burrage is a Portland native and local activist. He was formerly a congressional intern and organizer with the Portland Racial Justice Congress. Teddy hopes contribute to positive change in Maine by promoting social justice and civic engagement.

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