Republican Ed Thelander, who is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, has recently had to walk back several statements he has made, including in Portland on Wednesday when he addressed a crowd at a rally for the lobster industry and referred to federal fisheries regulators as rapists. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Ed Thelander, a Republican who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for her 1st-District seat, repeated a debunked social media myth  that litter boxes are being put in school bathrooms to accommodate “furries” – people who dress in animal costumes.

Thelander made the statements in July on an alternative conservative website, and a clip of the interview circulated this week. Thelander also attracted criticism this week for unrelated comments he made during a lobster industry rally in Portland on Wednesday.

Thelander, reached on Thursday, said he no longer believes that litter boxes are in school bathrooms, and that it was a mistake to bring it up on the show.

Thelander said “so many people” have told him about the litter boxes in schools, and he has been asking for evidence but has not seen any produced.

“I don’t believe it now,” Thelander said during a phone interview with the Press Herald on Thursday. “I’ve been asking for pictures, for confirmation, and no one has provided me a picture, so I can’t believe it.”

Thelander said he also doesn’t have any evidence of another claim he made in May on the same show, that there were instances of voter fraud in Bridgton during the 2020 election. He said he shouldn’t have brought it up without having proof, although he believes credible allegations of voter fraud should be investigated.


“I know there’s this preconceived notion of the ‘crazy right,’ and I’m not that, and that’s why I keep asking for confirmation of those things,” Thelander said.

Thelander has had to walk back multiple statements this week.

During a speech he made at a lobster industry rally in Portland Wednesday, Thelander referred to federal fisheries regulators as child rapists and said “you don’t negotiate with rapists.” Maine Democrats circulated a video of those comments and argued they show he is unfit for office. After Pingree criticized Thelander’s rapist comparison during a debate between the candidates Wednesday night, Thelander said his comments were “over the top and I apologize for that.”

The persistent litter box myth has been debunked numerous times by school officials around the country, including in Maine, where the Maine School Management Association says there is no evidence of any schools placing litter boxes in student bathrooms.

Thelander, a  Bristol resident and a former Navy SEAL, said in a July interview on a broadcast called Unrestricted Truths that students dressing in animal costumes at school were a “distraction.” The show is produced by American Media Periscope, a far-right program that highlights fringe conspiracy theories.

During the program, Thelander criticized schools for “providing a litter box to a kid because he thinks he’s a cat.”


“A major company here had to fire somebody because they hired them knowing she was a cat, thought she was a cat,” Thelander said on the show. “Sitting down in a lunchroom eating tunafish, squatting down in the corner somebody walked by and meowed at her, because she meows all day long. She jumped up and leaped and she bit somebody. And that’s a factual story. That’s insane.”

Thelander said Thursday he was told the person fired for pretending to be a cat worked at Bath Iron Works, although he also doesn’t have any direct evidence that it was true. A January article in the Lewiston Sun Journal about people known as furries who dress up as animals such as cats or bunnies referred to recurring, unconfirmed online rumors of employees dressed as animals at BIW.

The newspaper traced the rumor back to unconfirmed reports by an alternative website called Maine Journal News and found no evidence the claims were true. Some people who said they work at BIW have responded to the rumors online and dismissed them as false. A BIW spokesman did not respond to an inquiry from the Press Herald on Thursday.


The practice of dressing in animal costumes originated with science fiction conventions in the 1980s and furries now connect online and attend social events, including conventions held around the country.

David Farmer, spokesman for EqualityMaine, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, said that although furries can be people of any gender identity or sexual orientation, conservatives have latched onto the litter box myth as a scare tactic to make parents fearful of accommodating transgender children in schools. Farmer said politicians are using the myth as a “political wedge issue” to attract attention, so the claims get “more and more outlandish.”

“When politicians do this it is putting a target on these kids instead of treating them with the respect that all students deserve,” Farmer said. “What it is is an example of politicians and their rhetoric completely divorced from reality, cranking up hysteria to create issues where none exist.”


Meanwhile, in a May appearance on the same Unrestricted Truths program, Thelander claimed without evidence that there was voter fraud stemming from people casting votes using the names of 100 Bridgton Academy students who had graduated more than a decade ago, and were no longer Maine residents.

“Somebody voted in their name,” Thelander said on the show. “All that has to be tracked down. Not just tracked down. It needs to get prosecuted.”


Thelander didn’t provide any more details during the show, but on Thursday said it was allegations he had heard about the 2020 general election. He said it was an error to bring it up because he has never been given the evidence that it occurred.

“I’m trying to convince folks to get out and vote, and people are telling me it’s not worth it,” Thelander said. “I need these people to believe elections are safe and go out to vote.”

Thelander, during the campaign, has distanced himself from Republicans who make false claims that President Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.

Emily Cook, a spokeswoman with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, said that there is no evidence of voter fraud in Bridgton.

“A local Bridgton resident has repeatedly contacted us about registered Bridgton voters who she doesn’t feel should still be on the voter rolls,” Cook said. But she said there is nothing suspicious about the voter rolls in Bridgton.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.