SABATTUS — Federal and local law enforcement agencies are investigating a comment posted by a local man on Facebook: "Shoot the N*****" atop a picture of President Barack Obama.
David Marsters said Tuesday he was called down to the town police station and questioned by the Secret Service for about an hour. They asked him for his name, date of birth, past history and family history before getting to the heart of the matter: his Facebook post.
Next, they interviewed his wife and neighbors and searched his home for guns. He owns one handgun, he said.
Marsters is the same person who wanted the town to require every household to own a gun and ammo, and he's since taken out papers to run for selectman this fall.
Sabattus police alerted federal authorities Tuesday to Marsters' Facebook page, according to a written statement from Town Manager Andrew Gilmore. Marsters' post is dated Aug. 23.
Marsters is a retired police officer from Massachusetts. When people in the Facebook thread reacted to his comment and admonished him, Marsters asked if one was a "democrat" and wrote of Obama, "He is not a legal president," in response to the comment, "Our 1st Amendment doesn't give us the right to shoot presidents."
"If these statements were indeed made by Mr. Marsters and that is proven during this investigation, I need to clearly state that I am deeply concerned, appalled and, frankly, dumbfounded as to why he or anyone would declare such a thing, let alone print it for the world to see," Gilmore said.
"In three words, this statement incites violence to the level of murder, advocates for the assassination of a United States president and uses what is likely the most deplorable racial slur in American history."
Gilmore and police Chief Anthony Ward were alerted to the post by residents' emails. Marsters serves on several town committees.
Marsters did not return calls for comment. He appeared to have taken down the post by 1 p.m. Tuesday. Facebook users had to be accepted as a "friend," or be a friend of a friend, to view it and the dozen comments that followed.
Steve Wessler, a former Maine prosecutor and former executive director of the Center for Prevention of Hate Violence, said it would be up to an agency like the U.S. Secret Service to determine whether the words "Shoot the N*****" would result in criminal charges.
Threatening to harm the president is a low-level felony, and prosecutions do happen. A Georgia inmate pleaded guilty last week to threatening to kill Obama in a letter he wrote from prison.
"The idea of somebody expressing those kinds of views and running for public office is extraordinarily disturbing," Wessler said. "Everybody is entitled to disagree with political figures, and somebody may have a right to use racial slurs, the First Amendment right, but to actually have that talk about shooting somebody, much less the president, is totally beyond the pale.
"It's something that the vast, vast majority of Mainers would be disgusted about," he said. "I'm disgusted about it."
Though he has taken out nomination papers, Marsters has yet to turn in his signatures to get on the November ballot, Gilmore said. He said he was unaware of anything the town could do to keep Marsters from running, and he wouldn't necessarily want that.
"I believe the authority to elect or not elect any individual should remain solely with the voters," Gilmore said.
Marsters has had past dealings with local police, but all have been civil and noncriminal, and he has never been charged with a crime in town, Gilmore said.
In March, Marsters proposed a new law that would require Sabattus heads of households to own guns to "provide and protect (the) safety of the city."
At the time, he told the Sun Journal that after some break-ins in the area, he "threatened neighbors" who were "druggies."
“I forced certain kids to move,” Masters said, and that helped end the break-ins.
Selectmen weren't won over; they turned down Marsters' proposal.
At town meeting in June, voters approved a watered-down version, however, passing a measure that blocks Sabattus from adopting policies or ordinances that restrict the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Gilmore said he didn't want to address the inflammatory Facebook comment with a pat statement that the incident was regretful and didn't reflect on the town.
"Let me go a step further and very clearly state that I personally find this statement, whether made by Mr. Marsters or anyone else for that matter, deplorably hateful, dangerous and exactly opposite of all this country and the town of Sabattus stands for, and against what I believe any moral, sane person truly believes and represents, regardless of his or her ideology or philosophical views of the world," he said.
"I am both deeply saddened and angry that any person would say such a thing and also drag innocent people, such as the vast majority of good-natured residents in Sabattus, through a negative spotlight."
Staff writer Douglas McIntire contributed to this report.