A group of masked men, shown here giving a Nazi salute, demonstrated outside the state Capitol in Augusta in August, chanting “refugees go home.” Photo courtesy of Lance Tapley

AUGUSTA — The House of Representatives gave its initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would ban paramilitary training camps intended to create civil disorder.

The bill, introduced in response to a prominent white nationalist who had intended to set up a training camp in northern Maine, narrowly passed in a 66-60 vote, with 24 members absent. Six Democrats joined Republicans who were unified in opposition.

The measure, which would allow the attorney general to seek a civil injunction to stop illegal paramilitary activity, must still be taken up by the Senate and faces additional votes in each chamber.

Proponents argued that existing state law does not allow law enforcement to stop anyone from opening an unauthorized paramilitary camp with the intent to create civil disorder. But opponents worried that the bill’s provisions for what constitutes civil disorder would be interpreted differently across the state and infringe on an individual’s right to free speech and assembly.

While Republicans worried the bill would impact self-defense training courses and veterans groups, Rep. Sam Zager, D-Portland, said passing the bill will give the state the ability to stop illegal militias before they take root. Zager said the bill strikes “a careful balance” between constitutionally protected rights and public safety.

“I urge this body to recognize that this is a step forward,” Zager said. “It will help us from being too late in response to hate that goes beyond mere rhetoric.”


L.D. 2130 would prohibit paramilitary training, including the use and manufacture of firearms and explosives and other tactics, if the trainer “knows or reasonably should know” that the activity “is intended to be used in the furtherance of civil disorder.” It also would create a new felony and allow the attorney general to seek a civil injunction to stop unauthorized paramilitary activity.

Civil disorder is defined as “any public disturbance involving an act of violence by a group of two or more persons that causes an immediate danger of injury to another person or damage to the property of another person or results in injury to another person or damage to the property of another person.”

Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said the bill would provide too much discretion for district attorneys and others who would be tasked with deciding whether people participating in the paramilitary training are doing so with the intent to sow civil disorder. He worried that an individual could inadvertently get caught up in illegal paramilitary activity.

“That’s the problem with this bill,” Nutting said.” I think the interpretation of it will vary from county to county to county.”

Attorney General Aaron Frey previously told lawmakers that state laws were insufficient to intervene in paramilitary activity on at least two occasions in recent years, which have also seen an increase in public demonstrations of white nationalism.

Last year, Christopher Paulhaus, a prominent neo-Nazi, was trying to establish a paramilitary training center in the northern Maine town of Springfield. He ended up selling his property amid public backlash that followed a Press Herald report on rising activity among hate organizations in Maine. Frey said Paulhaus kept open the possibility of buying additional land without his name attached.

And in 2021, a group of armed men in uniforms calling themselves the Rise of the Moors was traveling to Maine with the stated goal of paramilitary training. That group was apprehended in Massachusetts after an armed standoff along Interstate 95. They did not have licenses to carry firearms in that state.

Five Democrats – James Dill of Old Town, Scott Landry Jr. of Farmington, Nina Milliken of Blue Hill, David Sinclair of Bath and Sophia Warren of Scarborough – and Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren, voted against the bill.

The bill was was sponsored by Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono. If it passes, Maine would become the 27th state to have such a measure, according to Jacob Glick, policy counsel with the Georgetown Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

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