Who is a real Mainer? Everyone who chooses to live here.
Tom Kawczynski was fired as the town manager of Jackman this week after his radical, racist agenda was exposed.
After news about Kawczynski surfaced last week, I spent some time on his New Albion website and in the underworld of Gab, an alt-right Twitter alternative, and on Kawczynski’s Facebook page.
While the white separatist and racist beliefs he espoused are terrible, I was more amazed by the openness with which he talked about his views and his goals of creating a white ethno-state in northern Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
He was proud as a peacock. And though he alluded to the liberals who would perhaps one day come after him, there was no shame in his posts or apparent concern that his ugly views would bring scorn upon him.
Kawczynski provided a glimpse into a racist movement and how it operates simultaneously in the shadows and right out in the open.
He provided a lesson on the way language is manipulated to hide intent, though he freely admitted that he was modifying his language in order to gain more mainstream acceptance.
I know there are modern-day Nazis, but to see cartoons and Gab handles proudly featuring swastikas was something I didn’t expect. Within this dark bigoted community, such open hatred is perfectly acceptable and there is no real fear of consequences — in fact, I suspect that Kawczynski may see his Jackman downfall as a launching pad to a larger position in the larger, national white separatist movement.
Whether it’s the Aroostook Watchmen, the Sovereign Citizens or other fringe, hate-motivated groups, these folks have always been with us in America. But I believe that they have been empowered to move more boldly out of the shadows by the words and actions of people like President Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage, who have built their political success on division, racially tinged rhetoric, anger and fear.
When the governor says people of color are the enemy and the president tries to ban Muslims from the country, people like Kawczynski hear the message loud and clear and no longer fear exposure.
If the president can say it, the leash of common sense gets a lot of slack in it.
The people of Jackman, even at a real dollar cost to them, did the right thing by showing Kawczynski the door. And I took pleasure in the banners around town that pushed back against his bigotry and misogyny.
But I’m also deeply discouraged. Kawczynski represents what I hope is a fringe belief system that proposes to know what it means to be a real Mainer — and a real American. That identity is wrapped tightly up in being white and Christian.
The far right, however, isn’t the only group that proposes to know what it means to be a real Mainer. The slur “from away” is still so common in Maine that it’s almost treated like a joke. But you can be from away and still be a real Mainer.
Rural lawmakers — including the governor — sometimes rail against Portland, Bangor and Lewiston. People there aren’t real Mainers, they suggest. Their voice, whether on local issues where there’s a progressive bent or statewide issues, don’t count as much as the “real Mainers” from rural parts of the state. Every year, it seems, and including this year, there are efforts to limit the political influence of the state’s cities. The message is if you live in southern Maine, your vote counts less.
Too many people are perfectly comfortable passing judgment on who is a real Mainer and who is an outsider.
In Portland, there are 61 languages spoken in the public schools. Deering High School has the most diverse student body north of Boston.
Whether they speak Portuguese or Mandarin, wear a hijab or a rosary, whether they like soccer better than football or would rather play golf or tennis than hunt or fish, every single one of those kids is a real Mainer.
The Somali, Sudanese and Burundi communities — they’re real Mainers. Just like the French, Italian, Irish and Lebanese who came before them. The hipsters from Brooklyn and the Massachusetts retirees, real Mainers.
They are all real Mainers, just like the fishermen, the farmers, the loggers and the families with three generations of papermakers are real Mainers.
All of us — we’re all real Mainers. Because we choose to be here and to live among one another as neighbors and, hopefully, as friends, and to build our communities together.
Kawczynski would see us divided. Others would turn us one against the other. Sadly, they’re Mainers, too.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.