Counter protestors block Richard Ward's "it's OK to be white" flag in Portland's Congress Square on Feb. 17. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

City council meetings in several Maine communities have been interrupted by anonymous people spreading racist, antisemitic and homophobic messages, but a national anti-hate organization said this is the work of a select few extremist groups.

The Portland City Council was the latest public body in Maine to have a meeting derailed by hate speech targeting minorities during the public comment portion of the forum on Monday. The interruption, which sent the council into an hour-long executive session, CBS 13 reported, is the city’s latest exposure to extremists targeting marginalized populations.

While the practice is affecting councils across the county, the interruptions are the work of a few extremists in the country, rather than pockets of people in communities across the state and country who work independently to tout racist, antisemetic and homophobic conspiracy theories.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism reported last month that this pattern stems from a few extremist groups that encouraged followers to hijack any public meetings they can find to spread antisemitic, white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives. Those extremist groups include the antisemitic Goyim Defense League, the white supremacist White Lives Matter network and the far-right Proud Boys.

In a May podcast, Goyim Defense League leader Jon Minadeo told followers to “Find a city council meeting, bring the [league’s] fliers in, talk about Jewish supremacy,” ADL reported. Since then, extremists have used public meetings across the country as a forum for spreading hate speech.

Portland joined the list of communities, in Maine and nationwide, to have a public meeting interrupted by unnamed people spreading hate speech over Zoom. Last Monday, city council meetings in Bangor and Hallowell were interrupted by people calling in to deliver antisemitic, racist and homophobic statements and conspiracy theories.  

“The city council will not entertain any sort of hate speech,” Bangor city councilor Cara Pelletier said after the interruption last week. “Whether you’re online, in person or sending flyers to city council members, you’re barking up the wrong tree. That’s not what this council stands for, so take it somewhere else.”

The ADL listed at least a dozen such incidents across nine states including California, Florida, Wisconsin and Maryland, which were tied to a select few members and leaders of extremist groups.

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...