Reuters, Jan. 9, 2003
By Sarah Mahoney
LEWISTON, Maine, Jan 9 (Reuters) – A white supremacist group whose leader is accused of trying to have a federal judge murdered said on Thursday it will proceed with plans to protest an “invasion” of this New England college community by Somali immigrants.
A spokesman for the World Church of the Creator said the group, which preaches hatred of Jews and blacks on its Web site, would stage a two-hour rally on Saturday in Lewiston, where it says the local white population is fed up with the influx of immigrants from the war-torn East African nation.
The spokesman, the Rev. John King of Newport News, Virginia, said the Lewiston protest would go ahead despite the arrest on Wednesday in Chicago of the Rev. Matt Hale on charges he tried to solicit the murder of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
Hale, 31, was arrested as he arrived at Chicago’s federal courthouse to face a possible contempt charge for refusing to obey Lefkow’s November ruling in a trademark case.
Hale told Reuters before his arrest that the Somalis were “invading” Lewiston, and that the residents of Maine’s second-biggest city had welcomed his church’s planned rally with open arms.
“The people of Lewiston want us there,” said Hale, who claims he receives as many as five positive e-mails a day from local residents. “We’ve never received the groundswell of support we’ve gotten from the people of Lewiston.”
But Phil Nadeau, Lewiston’s assistant city administrator, said he doubted Hale’s claims.
“He could say that aliens from Mars want him here, but can he prove it?” Nadeau said. “My impression is there’s a significant number of people in this community who don’t support him and a handful who do.”
He noted that while only 40 or 50 people were expected to turn up for the white supremacists’ rally, hundreds — maybe thousands — may attend a planned counter-demonstration the same day that will focus on diversity and attempt to show that Lewiston is embracing its newest residents.
MAYOR’S LETTER TRIGGERED UPROAR
For years, the former mill town was simply known as the place where Muhammad Ali flattened Sonny Liston in 1965.
But its booming Somali immigrant community has thrust Lewiston into the spotlight. More than 1,100 Somalis, seeking affordable housing, have moved to the city of 36,000 people in the past year.
While many U.S. cities — including Minneapolis, Atlanta, and nearby Portland, Maine — have larger Somali populations, few are as homogenous as Lewiston. About 95 percent of Lewiston locals are white, many of them descendants of the French-Canadian immigrants who once worked the mills.
Lewiston Mayor Laurier T. Raymond grabbed national headlines in October when he asked Somalis to stop moving to the city, citing concerns about overwhelmed social services.
“The Somali community must exercise some discipline and reduce the stress on our limited finances and generosity,” Raymond wrote in an open letter. “Now we need room to breathe.”
While the mayor’s office says he never meant to convey a message of bigotry, Raymond’s comments struck many Somalis as racist. The resulting uproar was enough to catch the attention of Hale and his group.
Saturday’s dueling demonstrations will probably prompt the largest mobilization of law enforcement in Maine’s history, officials said. But some of Lewiston residents, particularly the Somalis, said they are worried about the potential for violence as members of Hale’s church descend on Lewiston.
“A lot of Somalis think they are very dangerous, and they are concerned for their safety,” said Fatuma Hussein, director of an organization for Somali women in Maine and one of the scheduled speakers at Saturday’s counter-demonstration.