Maine Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross applauds after Gov. Janet Mills took the oath of office on Wednesday night, Jen. 4, 2023, in Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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“We should be storming the Capitol.”

Quick pop quiz: Who said that?

You would be forgiven for thinking that the quote belongs to former President Donald Trump, who is of course a central figure in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. 

However, Trump never said that. Whether you think he deserves blame for what happened that day or not, it is simply a fact that he never overtly called on the people there to do that in such definitive terms. 

The words were actually uttered this Monday at a Juneteenth event at the University of Southern Maine in Portland by Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Rachel Talbot Ross.

The context of the story is that Ross had stood up to address the panelists and attendees of the event in order to attack the Maine Department of Education for apparently giving insufficient attention to African-American history and culture in Maine schools. She said that the department was part of an “oppressive” and “supremacist” system that she described as an “atrocity.”

It is fascinating that a sitting Democratic speaker was so aggressive in her criticism of a department under the charge of a Democratic governor and a education commissioner appointed by a Democrat, and it continues to bring attention to some underlying tension between the present and potential future of the party in Maine.

But it is what she said next that raised eyebrows. 

“We should all storm the institution, out of anger that this is the attitude that they’ve taken about our history,” she said. “We should be storming the Capitol. Really, I’m serious.”

Really. She’s serious. 

For years, we have all been subjected to repeated lectures from the left that political rhetoric incites violence.

The funny thing about those accusations over the years is that they have been so politically one-sided. Some on the left suggested Sarah Palin was responsible for the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 because Palin’s political action committee had used target crosshairs on a U.S. Senate “target states” map. But when then-candidate Barack Obama gave an overt direction to his supporters to argue with their neighbors and get in their face, the mainstream press gave a big collective shrug. 

Some on the left may claim that the difference is that right-wing lunatics actually commit violence, while reasonable left-wingers do not, so right-wing rhetoric is more problematic. Unfortunately, that is nothing more than the selective memory and tunnel vision of tribalism speaking, because there is plenty of left-wing political extremism and violence in this country. 

The belief that hot rhetoric from the left is harmless while the same from the right is dangerous is an inaccurate view of reality born of being left wing. We as human beings believe that when “our side” does or says something, we know what they “really mean” and we believe that no sensible person could interpret it otherwise. When “they” do or say something, we believe their intent is as negative as it possibly could be, simply because they belong to a rival camp. 

Which may explain why Rachel Talbot Ross’ comment was not covered in Maine’s media, why she was not asked to defend her remarks, and why no political firestorm erupted. Crickets. This, despite the clear declaration she made that people “should be storming the Capitol” due to their “anger,” and her statement that said that really, she was serious. 

Imagine a world in which former Gov. Paul LePage said something like that. Imagine one where one of the Republican leaders in the Legislature, like Sen. Trey Stewart or Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, had said it. Imagine if I had said it in the pages of the Bangor Daily News.

Do you think it would have warranted attention from the press? Do you think it would have caused a controversy? Do you think it would’ve been universally condemned by everyone, and politicians all over the state would be asked to weigh in on the comment? Would a lot of very serious people spill ink over the subject, and would talking heads all across Maine give us hot takes?

You know that would happen. I don’t even know how you could dispute it. 

But for this? It seems that Rachel Talbot Ross is a favored politician by all the right people in the state for this to go unnoticed. After all, we know what she “really meant,” right? Even though she said she was serious, she really wasn’t. Right?

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...