BELFAST, Maine — A former sheriff linked to the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government extremist group, will speak in Belfast next week — a decision that has alarmed some in the community.
Richard Mack is a marquee speaker of the Arise USA! The Resurrection Tour that is making its only stop in Maine at the Crosby Center in downtown Belfast Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
The former Arizona sheriff is also the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association, an organization that believes that county sheriffs have powers that supersede those of any other law enforcement officer, including federal officers. In 2016, the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative news outlet, reported that Mack sat on the board of directors of the Oath Keepers. That group is part of the patriot militia movement and came under heavy scrutiny after the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S Capitol. It’s known for trying to recruit military and law enforcement officers and is classified as an anti-government extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
According to the event’s website, the tour aims to help “save America” and includes people who will talk about health, human rights and constitutional freedom.
“We the people need to take action together soon, we the frogs have been slowly coming to a boil in the pot of tyranny,” the Crosby Center’s Facebook page said about the event. “Let’s now jump out of the pot together to learn how we the people can reclaim our constitutional rights while we still can.”
The event’s announcement raised alarms in a liberal community where the Crosby Center is better known as the place to cast ballots on Election Day and where residents watch their children and neighbors perform in plays and musicals.
On Facebook, some called for the event to be canceled and the venue to be boycotted, saying the promotion of the tour sounds like a call for another insurrection similar to the Jan. 6 attack.
Kiril Lozanov, who owns the Crosby Center, defended the choice to host the event.
“Somebody made a comment that [I] should cancel the event because these people are fascists,” Lozanov said. “I just told him I don’t want to discriminate against people, or stop them from saying what they have to say … if I start censoring people and silencing them, which isn’t my job to begin with, that’s a kind of fascism that I don’t want any part of.”
But Andy O’Brien, a former state legislator and freelance writer who researches far-right extremist groups in Maine, doesn’t see it that way.
“He has a right to decide who he wants to speak at his venue,” O’Brien said. “But it’s not discrimination if you choose not to have somebody speak who’s spreading hateful propaganda.”
According to Lozanov, a local group took the initiative to bring the tour to Maine and has reached out to local sheriffs offices and police departments to invite all personnel to the Crosby to hear Mack and other speakers.
A phone call to Shabd Sangeet Khalsa, a Maine woman Lozanov said helped to bring the tour to Belfast, was not immediately returned on Friday.
The national tour organizer is Robert David Steele, a former CIA agent and 2016 Libertarian candidate for president who holds strongly anti-Zionist views. Steele told the Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day, Oregon, that the goal of the Arise USA tour is to unite 99 percent of the country against what he called the 1 percent in government. His group’s grievances included COVID-19 restrictions, alleged election fraud, satanic pedophila and critical race theory, according to the Eagle.
“What’s disturbing is that they’re trying to recruit members of local law enforcement to join up with their organization,” O’Brien said.
The event was a last-minute addition to the summer roster at the Crosby Center, Lozanov said.
“Maybe if 20 people show up, that will be good,” he said.
Lozanov also doesn’t expect protesters, but would welcome them as long as they are peaceful. He will request a couple of local police officers to come to the event to make sure any protesters do not get out of hand, he said.