FREEPORT — More than 200 people attended a community meeting Tuesday night to address Ku Klux Klan fliers found in town earlier this week.
The event was hosted by Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who lives in the neighborhood where fliers promoting the KKK were found Monday morning in several driveways on South Freeport Road.
Similar propaganda was also found in neighborhoods in Augusta and Topsham.
Gideon said it was important to host the Jan. 31 event to show that hate is unacceptable.
“When something like this happens and the idea of hatred is put into our homes and communities, we have to react immediately and as loudly as possible to say that this is not tolerated,” she said.
A group of several elected officials, educators and residents spoke at the event, which packed the meeting room at Freeport Community Services to capacity. Due to the large turnout, the meeting was held twice, back to back.
While the first group of 100 or so attended the meeting, a second, equally large group waited outside. Despite the cold, people remained patient and sang patriotic songs to pass the time.
Gideon said it was encouraging to see so many people show up at the last-minute meeting, which was announced Monday night.
“I think we’re together here tonight for one of the most basic, but one of the most important reasons that I can think of – to come together as a community, to reaffirm who we are, not just as Freeporters or as Mainers or as Americans, but in fact, who we are as human beings,” she said.
Town Councilor Melanie Sachs, who, along with Chairwoman Sarah Tracy was one of two councilors who spoke, agreed with Gideon and said the number of people at the meeting illustrated the compassion of Freeport residents.
“You are taking a stand,” Sachs said. “You are taking notice.”
The single-page fliers, folded and weighted with pebbles in plastic bags, promoted a Ku Klux Klan neighborhood watch and encouraged people to call a “24-hour Klanline.”
“You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake!” the fliers said. “Are there troubles in your neighborhood? Contact the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan today!”
The Klan has historically targeted black Americans, Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and Catholics.
Gideon said she had an extreme reaction to the fliers, and she’s glad to know others feel the same way.
“That flier landing in our backyard in Freeport floored me like absolutely nothing else that I experience or have experienced,” she said. “It left a pit in my stomach, it made me feel real fear for every person in our community, and then, also, finally, left me feeling very angry.”
Gideon said she hopes the meeting sends a message that the distribution of the fliers, as well as other hateful behavior, has no place in Freeport, or anywhere else.
“We come together today to reject the idea of hate, to reject the practice of discrimination, and to soundly turn away any person or any of their ideas that seek to divide us,” she said.
As of Tuesday night, police still did not know where the fliers came from or who placed them in Freeport and the other towns.
Becky Foley, Regional School Unit 5 superintendent of schools, also spoke at the meeting, and said she and other administrators, teachers and staff are using the incident as a teaching moment for students. She said they will continue to make the schools safe places for kids.
“We will teach compassion to our students, not divisiveness,” she said. “We will teach hope for our students, not fear.”
One student was asked to share his thoughts Tuesday night. Ben Morang, a sophomore at Freeport High School, spoke of growing up in a mixed-race household where “love was not constrained by skin tone or sexuality because love is love.”
Morang, 16, said he hopes Freeport residents can remember what’s important, even in the face of hateful words and actions.
“Although we may be constantly surrounded by hate, we need to remember love,” he said. “Remember that everyone deserves humanity.”
State Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Brunswick, who represents Freeport’s District 24, said Monday’s incident is not representative of Maine, and that residents need to be accepting of all people, regardless of where they’re from.
“Whether it’s new Mainers or folks who have been here for generations, reach out with love,” he said.
Gideon said it’s important to be inclusive and “celebrate the things that make us the same, but also make us different.”
Morang agreed, saying embracing other people’s differences instead of ignoring them is what equality is about.
“I do see color and I see the whole damn rainbow,” he said.
Gideon said although the Klan is best known for its views on white supremacy and targeting black Americans, hate affects everyone and that to combat it, everyone needs to come together.
“A threat to any of us is absolutely a threat to every single one of us,” she said. “The only way to address that threat is to face it is straight on and with our arms locked together.”
Ku Klux Klan fliers found in several driveways in South Freeport on the morning of Jan. 30.
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who represents Freeport, hosted a meeting Jan. 31 to address the Ku Klux Klan fliers found in town Monday morning. Speakers also included Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy, left rear, state Sen. Brownie Carson, the Rev. David Bowling of South Freeport Church, and student Ben Morang.
More than 200 people attended the Jan. 31 community meeting in Freeport, which had to be split into two parts to accomodate everyone at Freeport Community Services.