Demonstrators wave signs outside City Hall in Portland on Monday night, April 10, 2023, protesting what they saw as law enforcement's lackluster response to a violent Nazi march through the city on April 1. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Close to 200 people rallied outside the police station Monday afternoon and marched to a city council meeting, protesting what they said was a lackluster response from local police to a violent neo-Nazi march through Portland early this month.

Protesters said police should have arrested members of the neo-Nazi group NSC-131 after they assaulted counter-demonstrators instead of letting them continue their march, flashing fascist salutes and shouting racist rhetoric. The Cumberland County District Attorney criticized the Portland police handling of the situation, saying some neo-Nazis could have faced charges.

“I’m queer, I’m Jewish and I’ve lived in Portland my whole life,” event organizer Leo Hilton, co-chair of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, said outside the police station. “The police are not here to protect us, they’re here to protect property and the state.”

A row of Portland police officers sits at a city council meeting on Monday night, April 10, 2022, as dozens of commenters complain about the department’s response to a violent Nazi march through the city on April 1. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Hilton’s organization did not officially coordinate Monday’s protest, though its volunteers roamed the crowd, gathering contact information. He said he was one of four counter-protestors assaulted during a confrontation in which a police officer drew his gun to separate the groups.

In a statement last week, Portland’s Interim Police Chief F. Heath Gorham said no charges were filed because the counter-protesters said they were OK and declined to give a statement. On Monday, Hilton said he declined to give a statement because he wasn’t sure he could trust police, citing the department’s use of non-lethal force in the racial justice protests of 2020.

Other speakers on the police station steps said they were angry the police did not attempt to identify or take the Nazi’s names. The same speakers declined to identify themselves to the press, citing a fear of harassment. In the crowd, many obscured their faces with bandanas and large sunglasses. One man grabbed a photojournalist’s camera, shouting obscenities.

One speaker, who did identify himself, was Jeremy Niles, who said the neo-Nazis, whose banner read, “Defend White Communities,” were addressing white people like him.

“So be on the right side of history,” Niles said. “You can’t be neutral on Nazis.”

Dozens of protestors crowd into an overflow room at Portland City Hall to watch a city council meeting on Monday night, April 10, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

He then said white city leaders, including the police chief and mayor, must also do the same. Shortly afterward, the crowd marched to City Hall, where dozens of protestors got in line to speak at a city council meeting. Others filled an overflow room where proceedings were being shown on television.

Betsy Whitman, a resident of the city’s West End, said the Holocaust started with small “increments of terror” that nobody took seriously at first.

At least 13 Portland police officers sat in the council chamber or stood in the hallway. Hilton said he was certain the council and the department were getting the message.

“We have all these people,” he said. “That’s one way to do it.”

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.