The week of the July 4th holiday is typically a sleepy news week. Republican Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party are probably wishing for typical.
But that hasn't been the case for Maine's governor, who finds himself in another full-blown controversy following the publication of an excerpt from a book written by liberal activist Mike Tipping. Tipping, using public documents and segments from the Aroostook Watchmen radio show, wrote that LePage held eight meetings with members of the Constitutional Coalition, a group that Tipping says is aligned with a movement known as Sovereign Citizens. Sovereign Citizens isn't a group, per se, but its adherents subscribe to a conspiracy that believes the government is plotting a Christian holocaust via the mass collection of firearms, that it runs mind-control operations and that it was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Sandy Hook school shootings.
The FBI considers Sovereign Citizens as domestic terrorists.
Members of the Constitutional Coalition have disputed their ties to Sovereign Citizens in interviews with the Portland Press Herald and other news outlets. Republicans are hoping the link between the Constitutional Coalition and Sovereign Citizens is tenuous, or better, nonexistent. Headlines, dropheads and ledes with "LePage" and "domestic terrorists" are a bad thing for the governor's reelection campaign, regardless of qualifiers or nuance (Analysis!).
Tipping, who works for an organization that hopes to elect Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, is sticking by his report and has shared the documents he obtained with news organizations, including the Press Herald. As for the Sovereign Citizens connection, Tipping has noted that the individuals involved in the meeting have identified themselves as Sovereign Citizens in Watchmen broadcasts.
In one from February 4, 2013, co-host Jack McCarthy (full audio of the show), who was involved with at least one meeting with the governor, told his audience that the Coalition objected to a section of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy training manual on how to handle encounters with Sovereign Citizens.
McCarthy said Phil Merletti, another member of the Coalition, showed the manual to LePage.
"That document says that all four of us are domestic terrorists, do you understand where we stand?" McCarthy recalled. "The governor looked at that and his eyes got real big ... and he handed it to his cohort (presumably a staffer) next to him and said, 'Have you ever seen this before?'"
He added, "This is a government issued curriculum mandatory for every law enforcement officer in this state and it's telling them that anybody that says they're a Sovereign Citizen is a domestic terrorist. The FBI statement at the beginning says that the Sovereign Citizen is the greatest domestic terror threat in this country."
Tipping has argued that such comments, plus numerous other references in other Watchmen broadcasts shows that McCarthy and Merletti consider themselves Sovereign Citizen and support the conspiracy. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a lot of information on the movement, its history, its conspiracy, its tactics and its language.
Meanwhile, as Tipping and Republicans argue over the credibility and specifics of the book, LePage's gubernatorial opponents are teeing off.
Independent Eliot Cutler, in a statement, said, "This is just one more unfortunate distraction from the hard work of creating jobs and getting Maine’s economy back on track. This group is doing nothing to help Maine grow and it is regrettable that the Governor apparently gave them so much of his time when there are so many real challenges facing Maine."
Michaud said, "Gov. LePage’s words and actions are out of step with Maine values. By meeting repeatedly with these individuals, he’s given credence to their dangerous beliefs. We must take threats of violence from extremist groups seriously. Gov. LePage has once again shown a severe lapse in judgment that proves he’s not fit to lead the state of Maine."