Lewiston officials change location for upcoming rally

AP, Dec. 20, 2002
http://www.centralmaine.com/

LEWISTON — A Jan. 11 rally by a white supremacist group drawn to Lewiston by a widely publicized controversy over Somali immigration will be held at a site well removed from the city’s residential areas.

City officials said security was their main consideration when they cut a deal to let the World Church of the Creator meet on National Guard property off Alfred Plourde Parkway, nearly five miles from the downtown area.

“What we have learned is that when this group speaks, 75 percent of the time someone gets hurt or someone is arrested,” City Administrator Jim Bennett said Wednesday. “We are going to do everything we can to keep the residents of the community safe from that.”

The public meeting is expected to draw 30 to 40 members of the church and their sympathizers. But officials are concerned primarily about potential clashes with an estimated 300 to 400 protesters expected to arrive from outside Lewiston and Maine.

“The number of protesters depends in many cases on the amount of publicity the event has had leading up to it,” Deputy Police Chief Michael Bussiere said. “Based on the publicity leading up to this event, we are expecting quite a turnout.”

The white supremacists will meet in the cafeteria of the Lewiston Culinary Arts School, next door to National Guard buildings. The state owns that building and rents it to the school. The cafeteria has room for 40, just the size that World Church leader Matt Hale requested.

“This site is easy for the police to secure,” Bussiere said. “Almost as importantly, it’s not in a neighborhood.”

Bennett said the city could not legally stop Hale and his group from coming to Lewiston.

“Once we made that decision, it became a matter of how to plan and prepare so that this does not become a public safety situation,” Bennett said.

White supremacists have targeted Maine since Lewiston Mayor Larry Raymond sent a letter this fall asking Somali leaders to discourage friends and family from relocating to the city.

About 1,100 Somalis have moved to the city, and Raymond said its resources are taxed to the limit. Somalis responded angrily to the letter, saying it smacked of bigotry.

Another white supremacy group, the National Alliance, distributed leaflets over the weekend in Lewiston, Auburn and Portland, trying to recruit members.

All 80 Lewiston police officers will be on duty on the morning of next month’s rally, and the city is working with state and neighboring police agencies for backup. Bennett declined, however, to elaborate on the city’s security plans.

“This is a little different from a rock concert, for example,” Bennett said. “There are people out there that are hoping there are problems, and that something happens. They hope to provoke.”

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