Vandalism of Collins campaign signs treated as hate crime

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WISCASSET — Swastikas spray-painted on Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign signs in Franklin, Kennebec and Lincoln counties over the weekend are being treated as a hate crime, according to Maine law enforcement officials.

Reports of the symbol of the Nazi party defacing Collins’ signs along Route 27, from Wiscasset to Farmington and in the town of Manchester, began pouring in on Monday morning, according to Wiscasset Police Chief Troy Cline, who suspects the signs were vandalized overnight Sunday.

“We got a good number of calls about various signs,” Cline said Tuesday. “As far as we know, Susan Collins was singled out.”

Cline said that by the time an officer got to the signs, all except one on Route 1 had been removed.

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“I don’t know what’s going on with this,” Cline said. “We will be handling it as a hate crime. Once you start using those types of symbols — as far as I’m concerned, those are hate symbols. I don’t know what religion Sen. Collins is or what her family background is — it’s not for me to ask. However, we do take it seriously and will report it to the attorney general’s office.”

Tim Feeley, spokesman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, confirmed on Tuesday that the attorney general’s office “is working with” Wiscasset police on the incident.

A person convicted of violating the Maine Civil Rights Act, which would be a civil violation, could be fined up to $5,000, Feeley said.

“You start looking at this as, is it somebody just being malicious and doing criminal mischief, not even knowing what the swastika means, or is it somebody that actually knows what it means and is doing it to make a point and to cause alarm?” Cline said.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said he discovered two large signs with the symbols Saturday evening along Route 27, one in New Sharon and one in Rome, and then a smaller sign in Farmington Falls.

Nichols has posted on the sheriff’s office Facebook page, asking anyone with information to come forward.

“I don’t know about a hate crime, but it’s a political crime, obviously, to steal or deface these,” Nichols said.

Collins’ campaign spokesman Lance Dutson said Tuesday that campaign workers discovered many of the signs as they were preparing for the senator’s bus tour into the area. He said signs also were found in Farmingdale, Pittston, Edgecomb and Dresden. They immediately removed the signs defaced with the offensive symbols, he said.

“The use of this kind of hateful symbolism is reprehensible and abhorrent,” Dutson said in a statement. “This type of activity has no place in Maine.”

Collins’ opponent, Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows, said in a statement Tuesday, “The swastika symbolizes hate, and hate has no place in our state. Whoever is doing this, and for whatever reason, it needs to stop. Maine does not tolerate hate.”

The Anti-Defamation League of New England also said it would take action as a result of the vandalized signs.

“The swastika is a universal symbol of hate representing fear and intimidation and has no place in any political campaign,” Robert Trestan of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Tuesday.

“The insertion of hatred into this political campaign is offensive to everyone and should be condemned by all. We hope residents of Maine from across the political spectrum will come together to support a resumption of civility for the remainder of the campaign season.”

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