Travis Verrill and Jason Gordon at the park bench in Norway that was featured in an anti-racism video they recorded and posted online, which received two million views in under five days. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

NORWAY — Travis Verrill and Jason Gordon unintentionally landed in the middle of viral internet stardom this week after they posted a video describing their confrontation with a man displaying racist signs in the windows of his Norway home.

“You gotta stand up to make a change,” said Verrill.

But the two South Paris men are far from the usual anti-racism activists.

Verrill is the owner and sole employee of a flooring business, Tornado Tile Work, and a race car driver who competes at Oxford Plains Speedway. Gordon is owner of a plumbing and heating business, Gordon and Son.

Verrill, who served for four years in the Army, does live video broadcasts from the cockpit of his racing car, a 1997 Honda Civic, so that his sponsors — many of whom are Army friends from around the country who can’t watch the race in person — can get a firsthand experience.

Verrill finances his racing by selling stars that decorate his car. “I paint my car like an American flag every year, and I sell a star for $20,” Verrill said. “You can put a veteran’s name in the star.”

This, he said, pays for his racing fees, tires and repairs. The live videos are a perk for his contributors.

Since using video to chat with his public is something Verrill comes by naturally, when he and Gordon landed themselves in an unusual confrontation Monday it was second nature for him to pick up the cellphone and record his thoughts.

The two men never expected their video to be so popular.

It all started when Gordon saw a photo on Facebook on Monday of extremely racist signs hanging in the window of an apartment building in Norway. As it turned out, Gordon’s son was fishing nearby. When Gordon picked him up, he said he was disgusted by the signs.

“That ain’t the world to bring up kids,” Gordon said.

Gordon called Verrill to tell him they needed to go talk to the man who had hung the signs, and they needed to ask him to take them down.

The two friends did a little investigative work and found the man who had hung the signs taking a rest on a park bench in Norway. Verrill sat down next to the man on the bench.

“I took a breath, I looked at him, and I said, ‘We got to talk about your signs,’” Verrill said.

The man was not interested in taking down his signs, but he agreed to walk the length of Main Street and listen to Verrill. The man claimed to be a veteran in the 101st Airborne division of the Army, which coincidentally, was the same division that Verrill served in.

As they walked together toward the man’s home, Verrill shared his concerns about the racist signs.

“There’s a lot of protesters coming through this town in the next couple of weeks. They’re going to Bethel. They’re going to Lewiston-Auburn,” Verrill remembers saying to him. “You can’t have that type of negativity. You can’t draw that type of attention.”

Eventually, they arrived at the man’s home. Gordon, who had been keeping track of their walk from his vehicle, joined Verrill at the apartment building. The older man remained unconvinced, but Verrill told him ”I ain’t leaving without them signs.”

“I knew it wasn’t gonna change his mind and I wasn’t gonna change his heart. I just wanted the signs down. For me and for everybody around me,” Verrill said.

The older man eventually removed the signs and handed them over to Verrill and Gordon, insisting that he was going to replace the racist signs after Verrill and Gordon left.

Once Verrill and Gordon had the signs in hand, they decided to post a video message describing their encounter, to update their friends that the signs had been removed to alleviate the concerns people had been voicing.

This video, intended for a small local audience soon gained traction on its own. In it Verrill speaks passionately about how racism is wrong, and how he was not going to tolerate this behavior in his town.

In less than five days, the video had been viewed over two million times.

“I’ve got messages from people in Russia. I’ve got messages from people in Australia; messages from people in the UK; a whole lot of the continental United States,” Verrill said.

Gordon has watched in awe as they received a shout-out on Quarantine Karaoke from a participant in Wyoming.

Both men have given up on responding to messages and they have received thousands of Facebook friend requests this past week.

Most of the response has been positive.

“People have been saying ‘You’re invited to the barbecue’ and ‘More people should stand up like you’. The most powerful messages are when someone just comments ‘Respect,’” Verrill said.

A few responses have not been as positive, and Verrill and Gordon have both received negative messages and threats from people that have not watched the video, or “people that have pure hatred in their heart,” Verrill said.

“We had no idea this was going to go this far; I would’ve used better language,” Verrill said. “It wasn’t meant to be clickbait.”

Verrill’s experience with this viral video gives him hope.

“I feel like we’re at a point right now where so many people have reached out, like it shouldn’t be that hard to make a change.”

“If every town had two guys that did the same thing, it would be a lot better world,” Gordon added.

As of Friday night, the signs had not yet been replaced.


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