Click the dots below to see responses to constituents from LePage
Click the dots below to see responses to constituents from LePage
Gov. Paul LePage has had a busy week promoting neo-Confederate revisionist history and defending comments he’s made equating anti-fascist protestors with actual fascists following the murder of peaceful anti-racist activist Heather Heyer by neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks ago. In his weekly address, the governor went even further to pin the blame on “leftists” for the death of Heyer and the two state troopers who died in a helicopter crash while covering the rally in Charlottesville.

“The so-called ‘anti-fascists” went to Charlottesville looking for a confrontation,” wrote LePage of the protesters Heyer marched with. “It cost the lives of a young woman and two dedicated police officers.”

The governor’s latest tirade comes after he made national headlines last week for comparing the removal of Confederate monuments to removing the National September 11 Memorial in New York City.

“I mean, listen, first of all they should study their history,” LePage told WGAN. “They don’t even know the history of this country and they’re trying to take monuments down. Listen, whether we like it or not, this is what our history is and … to me it’s like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11.”

WGAN host Ken Altshuler pointed out that proponents of moving the statues argue they were put up to intimidate African Americans during the Jim Crow era.

“Oh, c’mon. That’s today. That’s today,” the governor replied. “Next week George Washington’s gone.”

LePage added that the best way to deal with demonstrations like in Charlottesville is to order police and soldiers to “take ’em out.”

“I will tell you right away how I would react: ‘All guns ahead, boys! Take ’em out!’?” the governor said. “I have no use for any of it. If they’re going to go into violence, my first advice to the Maine people is, don’t gather in these large crowds. It’s not safe. But when police officers are called and National Guards are called, they’re called for a reason and they want to keep peace, so stay away. And if you choose to go in and battle, I would not be timid.”

When asked for a reaction to recent reports of the Ku Klux Klan leafleting near his home in Boothbay, the governor noted that someone also left a soiled mattress on his front lawn in Boothbay several weeks ago.

“I mean, ya know, have they violated any rights? Have they violated any laws?” LePage replied. “I mean, I’m all for it. I’d like to find out who it was. I’d like to find out who deposited a mattress in my driveway a couple weeks ago, but you know, move on.”

The governor is also once again sending angry letters to constituents who have criticized his response to Charlottesville. In a letter to LePage dated Aug. 15, a day before the governor made a public comment on the violence in Charlottesville, Laurel Daly wrote, “Silence in the face of immorality is tantamount to consent. Do you agree or disagree with the racist hate of the white supremacists? Let the Maine people know where you stand.” The governor sent the letter back with the message: “Return to Sender. This does not deserve a dignified response. Who is the racist, calling out folks who have nothing to do with this horrific tragedy.”

The governor sent another letter to Daly the next day stating that “the anti-fascists are no better, they are trying to erase history,” presumedly in reference to calls for the removal of Confederate monuments. In another response to a critical letter from Darcey Poulin of Waterville, LePage wrote, “You must be reading the liberal press. I have been the most outspoken Governor of the KKK [sic]. Funny how you don’t listen until it suits your bigotry.”

“I’m a History Buff”

On Tuesday the governor then branded the press as “terrorists” for reporting on his inflammatory comments.

“I’m sticking with my stand and I will go one step further — these newspaper reporters, they’re pencil terrorists themselves,” he said. “They incite violence and I’m sick of them and the sooner they get out of business the sooner America can get back and become a great nation."

He added that “nobody wants to talk about the two police officers” who died in a helicopter crash during the Charlottesville demonstration, before he launched into another full-throated support of Confederate monuments.

“I’m a history buff, I think you learn from history. I have a library of books both of every president and many of the Civil War heroes. And so what do we do? Are you going to take the monuments down and then you’re going to come in and take my books?”

WVOM host Ric Tyler reminded the governor that he removed a mural commemorating the history of Maine’s labor movement from the Department of Labor in 2011.

“The mural, unfortunately, was at the Department of Labor, which means it’s labors, commerce and people,” LePage replied. “And it was a one-sided mural and so what we said is just move it to another place. We didn’t destroy it.”

The Confederate monuments being removed by Southern municipalities are not being destroyed.

Then the governor tried to explain that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but rather “property rights.”

“If you truly read and study the Civil War, it was turned into a battle for the slaves, but initially, I mean 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy and they fought because they were concerned about, they were farmers and they were concerned about their land, their property,” said the governor. “It was a property rights issue as it began. The President of the United States, who was a very brilliant politician, really made it about slavery to a great degree.”

Reached for comment, Maine State Archivist David Cheever said the governor’s 7,600 figure is “likely incorrect.” He said that the Maine State Archives has identified 30 men who chose to fight for the Confederacy, including 15 men who were students at or graduates of Bowdoin College, three who attended Waterville College (now known as Colby), “and another 11 men who were federal army officers prior to the war and who had Maine roots or connections but who nevertheless joined the Confederate army.” He added that most tracking of enlistees, draftees, and even officers in Southern states “was often so flawed as to be unreliable.”

“Yet, it is partly because we do not have records of Confederate soldiers from Maine that leads us to conclude a negative,” Cheever continued. “If 7,000 men left Maine to fight against the Union, there would have been an accounting — records. When the Provost Marshals and U.S. Census Bureau personnel tallied the number of eligible Maine men to fulfill town or draft quotas for service, those tallies would have evidenced a loss of 7,000 or more men, and that would have been well noticed by the Adjutant General, the Governor(s) and the federal authorities. The absence of notice, the dearth of reports, would suggest, rather, that the 7,000 figure is likely incorrect.”

In an email to The Free Press in response to questions about the governor’s remarks, Princeton professor and a noted Civil War expert Matt Karp called the governor’s comments “bizarre.”

“The idea that Maine was a Confederate hotbed is pretty ludicrous, and the idea that Maine furnished 7,600 troops for the Confederacy is even more ludicrous,” wrote Karp. “In the 1860 presidential election, the southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge couldn’t even get 7,600 votes in Maine. Lincoln won the state with over 62% of the vote (his fourth highest mark in the country) and Maine furnished over 70,000 troops for the Union, including over 9,000 who died during the Civil War.”

Maine sent the largest proportion of troops relative to its population to fight for the Union of all the Northern states. But Karp added that property rights certainly was a major cause of the war.

“As lots of historians have pointed out recently, the property value of the South’s slaves was somewhere around $3 billion — more than all the banks, factories, and railroads in the North combined. Slaveholders believed their right to human property was enshrined in the Constitution, while Lincoln and the Republicans did not — a major reason that so many slaveholding leaders embraced secession after Lincoln was elected.”

As Confederacy Vice President Alexander H. Stephens stated on March 21, 1861, a month before the rebels attacked Fort Sumter: “Our new government is founded upon … the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

But the governor isn’t the only Maine Republican to side with Confederate Democrats. Last week, Rep. Karl Ward (R-Dedham) posted a video on his Facebook page arguing that the South didn’t secede over slavery, but rather the Morrill Tariff of 1861, which increased import tariffs in an attempt to foster growth of Northern industries.

“The sad truth is that Lincolns War cost us the lives of more than 600,000 Americans,” stated the video in a grammatically challenged and poorly spelled defense of the Confederate cause: “They were fighting for a just cause wich was against a unrepresentative government a tax that was killing their economy and for the denial for state rights were the main reason for the south’s fight for independence.”

However, Professor Karp noted that many states had already seceded by the time the Morrill Tariff passed.

“The bill only got through the Senate because 7 southern states (and 14 southern senators) had already left the Union,” wrote Karp. “It didn’t pass until March 1861. To be sure, most southern leaders strongly opposed the proposed tariff, but a glance at any of the major declarations of secession, issued by secessionists from South Carolina to Mississippi, makes it clear that the protection of slavery was by far the most important consideration.”

And while Republicans are busy defending the Confederacy, Democrats issued a statement lauding the tens of thousands of Mainers who served in the war along with Maine Republicans like Gettysburg hero Joshua Chamberlain and Lincoln’s Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.

“Leaders are always tested. But the willingness to stand up against bigotry, to unequivocally condemn the ideology of hate, is one of the easiest tests of all,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash). “There are no ‘two sides.’ The white supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville represent the same radical ideology that threatened the future and safety of our nation during the Civil War. Their hateful vision of oppression and subjugation of their fellow man is the same one that so many Mainers fought, and died, to defeat. They deserve our unequivocal condemnation and nothing less. No ifs, ands or buts.”