BRIDGTON — One day after a story appeared in the Bridgton News about a racist sign displayed just inside a garage on Fosterville Road, a 59-year-old man has been charged with assaulting WGME reporter Steve Roldan.
David Houston was charged by Bridgton Police after a confrontation with Roldan as Roldan attempted to interview Houston about a racist handmade anti-Obama sign at the property.
In a tape of the confrontation, Houston can be seen grabbing Roldan's necktie and trying to push him after Roldan asked Houston why he had closed the garage door, shielding the sign. As he attempts to avoid Houston's hands, Roldan can be heard telling the older man to keep his hands off the microphone.
The tape also depicts cameraman Dave Hill running to Roldan's assistance while holding a cell phone to his ear. According to the station, Hill was calling police to report Houston's actions.
Houston was later stopped on Route 114 in Sebago, where he was charged with assault.
On Thursday, the Bridgton News first reported the presence of the sign and a police complaint about its content.
According to that story, on the upper right corner of the sign is a photo of U.S. President Barack Obama. On the upper left is a caricature of an African-American, labeled “Sambo.”
The sign also contains a racially-offensive term, and accuses Obama of engaging in sexually-deviant behavior. It ends by encouraging people to “Join Bridgton Ku Klux Klan.”
Around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Bridgton Police officer Phil Jones responded to a complaint at the 8 Fosterville Road property, listed as owned by Francis and Rosemary Houston, both of whom died in 2008.
The man who lives at the farmhouse has been selling some of its contents was willing to talk to The News, but declined to give his name when asked by a reporter, identifying himself only as “Pratt.”
Pratt said a friend who lives in the South asked if he could display the sign, and Pratt agreed. He also agreed to sell some Klu Klux Klan items, including a padded cross with a Confederate flag logo that Pratt said is designed to be lit aflame at rallies and other events. He held up the cross to show it off.
“You can buy these things all over the South,” he said. “I have one of them. They’re reproductions” of the types of crosses that were used by the Klan during its heyday, he said, and can be had for around $15.
Pratt gave the man’s first name as “Chet,” and said Chet sold a fair amount of items when he was visiting last weekend. He said Chet plans on his next visit to bring Klu Klux Klan brochures to pass out to anyone who’s interested, in the hopes of rallying support for the Klan’s cause in the Bridgton area.
Pratt said there’s an active contingent of mostly young people in the region who subscribe to the tenets of the “White Power” movement, believing that African Americans bring with them crime and violence wherever they settle. He offered numerous cases, and particularly singled out what he said was the negative impact of the Somali population in Lewiston.
Pratt said the police were called after a man driving by in a pickup truck stopped and attempted to remove the sign from the garage. Pratt stopped him. Pratt said Jones initially said the sign was illegal because of its racial content, and also because it constituted disturbing the peace.
Neither reason rang true for Pratt, who invoked his right to freedom of speech.
According to Police Chief Kevin Schofield, once Jones' report is complete the Bridgton department will forward it to the Cumberland County District Attorney, the Maine Attorney General and the U.S. Secret Service for possible prosecution.
“Frankly, it’s oftentimes a very fine but blurry line between what is free speech and what can cross over into criminality,” said Schofield. State disorderly conduct laws or the Maine Civil Rights Act might apply, or they might not, he said.
In addition, the U.S. Secret Service, part of the Department of Homeland Security, investigates suspected violations of the federal law against making threats against the president.
When contacted about the sign, neither the AG’s office nor the Secret Service were aware of it. Brenda Kielty, an AG spokeswoman, said her office seeks restraining orders against anyone who violates the Maine Civil Rights Act, who “commit acts of violence, threaten violence, damage property, threaten to damage property, or trespass on the property of another when this conduct is motivated by bias based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.”
Violators of this civil crime can be fined up to $5,000.
Pratt said he is just one of many who believe the truth has been kept from the American people about Obama’s real background, and said he has received encouraging comments from many people who’ve seen the sign.
Sun Journal Staff Editor Judith Meyer contributed to this report.