Maine leaders say they won’t tolerate neo-Nazi paramilitary camp in Springfield

11 months ago

News of a nationally known neo-Nazi setting up a training ground in Springfield spurred a Maine senator to call on top law enforcement officials to intervene and a sheriff to call for federal agencies to step up.

After reading a Bangor Daily News article about former U.S. Marine Christopher Pohlhaus building a neo-Nazi encampment in Penobscot County, Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, wrote Tuesday on social media it is “time for the Governor, the Attorney General of Maine, the Penobscot County District Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney to work on shutting these Nazis down and sending this guy back to Texas.”

Since last year, Pohlhaus has been inviting white male followers to move to Maine and especially to his 10.6-acre property in Springfield to help him clear land for cabins and train for what he calls a violent war. Pohlhaus’ Springfield project is an example of organized extremism taking root in Maine.

Tuesday’s comments by law enforcement and lawmakers is the strongest public stand they have taken yet against the neo-Nazi movement in Maine.

There is a fine line between constitutional freedoms and illegal activity, Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen said, questioning whether they are just doing their thing in the woods or are creating an encampment for illegal activity. 

It’s important that federal agencies, particularly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, look into it, Gillen said, adding that they could be involved but he is not aware that they are.

Gillen points to the possibility of illegal weapons, people who are not allowed to be in possession of weapons or those who have outstanding warrants from other states as reasons for local and federal involvement. 

“They have a tendency to draw that type of crowd,” Gillen said. “People may be running from another state and say, ‘hey, I’m going to end up in Maine and nobody will know I’m here.’” 

Gillen said he is putting his feelers out to see if there is anything going on in Aroostook County. 

People motivated by white supremacist views “are substantially more likely to engage in crime prior to radicalizing than are individuals associated with other ideologies,” according to University of Maryland researcher Michael Jensen.

Verbally attacking people of color, the LGBGTQ+ community and Jewish people, Pohlhaus’ armed neo-Nazi group, Blood Tribe, has had a swift rise to national prominence. Its members often travel thousands of miles from Pohlhaus’ Maine base camp to states like Ohio and Wisconsin to intimidate others. 

“I am proud of my boys working till dusk at the camp and we are seeing results,” Pohlhaus said on Telegram, an encrypted message board, referring to intense physical fitness drills, weapons training and preparing the land for future use. 

Experts see this activity as the early stages of an increased threat to the community. Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said it should be a concern when neo-Nazis are effectively in your backyard setting up target practice and training with firearms.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said he will not hesitate to use all means to stop the spread of hateful, un-American views.

“I find the espousal of discriminatory and hateful ideologies to be repugnant, and I stand poised to bring legal action should any constitutionally protected activity cross into unlawful behavior,” he said.

His office is in close contact with the U.S. attorney and law enforcement agencies around the state that are monitoring this activity, he said.

Maine has anti-militia laws, but the attorney general’s office said it was unable to comment on whether they apply in this situation. 

In May, Vermont lawmakers made owning or operating a paramilitary training camp or training people at a paramilitary camp a crime. 

Baldacci said Tuesday he plans to work with House and Senate colleagues to send a letter within the next few days to top law enforcement officials regarding Pohlhaus. The situation has escalated from a person buying property and moving to the state to a person putting together a paramilitary facility, he said. 

“Paramilitary training is against the law, and he’s professed violence, or is at least supportive of violence, and that raises enormous concerns,” Baldacci said. “People in Bangor (70 miles away) are overwhelmingly appalled by their existence to advocate Nazi propaganda, and it’s just very disgusting.”

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson said he looks forward to talking further with Baldacci about what he hopes the letter will achieve. 

Jackson is alarmed by the rise of hate and extremism that has been documented in Maine. Earlier this year Maine legislative leaders responded to inflammatory mail espousing white supremacist ideas sent to certain lawmakers, he said, adding that they have zero tolerance for white nationalist groups’ behavior or intimidation. 

This activity is counter to the values of Maine and the nation, said Maine Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook. 

“These individuals likely need intense mental treatment or the confines of a jail cell — not open space to camp and plan illegal activities in northern Maine,” he said. “Maine law enforcement is likely within its bounds to step in under Maine law and should be considering what recourse they can take before some tragedy occurs.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Gov. Janet Mills rejects Pohlhaus’ ideology and that there is no home in Maine for white supremacy, antisemitism or hate of any kind.

BDN reporter Billy Kobin contributed to this report.