The response to my book excerpt and the initial news reports on Governor Paul LePage’s meetings with a group of Sovereign Citizens has been intense, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down even a week later.
I have responded to some false claims by the LePage administration about the meetings both here and in my Press Herald column, and spoke to a number of national outlets on the subject, including All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.
Some reporters have also dug a bit deeper.
At MPBN, A.J. Higgins spoke to Sheriff Randall Liberty to confirm details of the meeting where LePage asked him to follow up with the Attorney General on behalf of the Constitutional Coalition. Susan Sharon asked LePage supporters if the meetings affected their view of the governor, with depressingly predictable results.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s leading authorities on extremist groups, weighed in on the meetings on their HateWatch blog, calling LePage’s excuses “feeble,” and noting that:
“Had Gov. LePage held a similar private meeting with leaders of the state’s Ku Klux Klan, for instance – an organization that in reality is not significantly more radical than the Sovereign Citizens movement – the inappropriateness of the governor’s sponsorship of these sessions would have been only slightly clearer.”
Independent legislator Jeff Evangelos has called for an investigation into the meetings by the Attorney General.
In Politico Magazine, reporter Colin Woodard has summarized and fact-checked the entire affair for a national audience.
Here at the Bangor Daily News, blogger Amy Fried has begun digging into the documents from the meetings I obtained by Freedom of Access request in a series of blog posts and the editorial page responded to some of LePage’s false claims about the meetings with evidence from the recordings and documents.
“LePage met eight times with people who essentially seek to undermine the state’s public safety. By meeting regularly with them, he lent their cause a level of credibility it in no way deserves,” states the editorial.
The news side of the BDN seems to be ignoring the warnings of their own editorial page. They chose to publish a long profile piece on members of the Constitutional Coalition by Sun Journal reporter Mark LaFlamme, who apparently hasn’t listened to a single minute of the group’s radio appearances or read any of the documents from their meetings. He gives credibility to their conspiracy theories by allowing them to claim “evidence,” “facts,” “research,” and “knowledge” of government and constitutional issues without ever requesting that they back up a single word or speaking to anyone who would refute their claims.
“Things like United Nations land grabs and encroachments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are backed up by easily accessible documentation, they say.” he writes, for one example, apparently not having asked for the supposed documentation for these extraordinary claims.
For those not initiated into Sovereign Citizen beliefs, what they’re talking about with FEMA (as they make clear many times on their radio appearances) is that they believe the U.S. government is using the agency as cover to set up re-education or concentration camps across the country as a prelude to a coming civil war. (Although I should note that in one rare moment of self-reflection, one of the Constitutionalists wondered if they’re wrong and the camps are instead the entrances to secret underground cities where the elites will live once they’ve scorched the surface of the earth.)
I would think that these and other extreme beliefs might warrant even a smidgen of journalistic incredulity, but it’s nowhere to be found in LaFlamme’s piece. The whole thing falsely presents the conspiracy theorists as “researchers” and guardians of the Constitution when in fact their beliefs are completely at odds with our nation’s founding documents, current laws, and basic common sense.
In other news, I have not yet received LePage’s notes from the meetings, despite renewed requests following his promise to make them available.