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SPLC analyst’s work helps spur Maine law restricting paramilitary training

When I started investigating a neo-Nazi camp in Maine last year, I did not expect my reporting would eventually lead to the state restricting paramilitary training.

However, that is what happened this month when the governor signed such a bill into law. It is now possible for the Maine attorney general to seek a court injunction to stop such training designed to create civil disorder. Charges can result in a one-year jail sentence, The Associated Press reported.

When I initially exposed a neo-Nazi’s plans to establish a paramilitary training camp, I knew that at best I only helped to delay his plans. But now I’m more hopeful. Elected leaders in Maine stood up against hate and sent a clear signal to white supremacists that training to harm diverse communities is not welcomed in their state.

The road to this point was a long, tedious one that required research and long hours on my part as well as that of people in the community dedicated to exposing hate and extremism.

The leader of the neo-Nazi Blood Tribe, Christopher Alan Pohlhaus, never hid the fact that he purchased land in Maine, nor did he hide his intentions. He envisioned using the land as the headquarters for his group and to provide his followers a place to train, strategize and network. But it wasn’t until I saw a video on social media of Blood Tribe members berating what appeared to be a young mother and her daughter outside a drag show in Wadsworth, Ohio, in March 2023, that I started to search property records to locate the camp.

The search was a tiresome process. Even with a tip that helped narrow the search to Penobscot County, the property records did not include an address, just a lot number and subdivision name. After more digging and comparing different versions of hand-drawn maps of subdivisions – and learning that the names of roads changed in the 1990s – I was able to conclusively show the camp’s location in my report published in July 2023.

What happened next was a humbling experience.

Local journalist Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli of the Bangor Daily News picked up where my report left off. She traveled to see the camp for herself and talk to area residents. In August and September, her articles captured the reactions from communities and the building and permitting challenges Pohlhaus faced. Her stories also dug into Pohlhaus’ local supporters. Local TV news outlets interviewed Pohlhaus and covered the rise of antisemitic incidents and attacks against LGBTQ+ civil rights that neo-Nazi groups like the Blood Tribe encourage.

This is what I and my colleagues at the Southern Poverty Law Center like to see – our work being used by others to help expose hate and extremism in a community. The warning within my original article was not only reported by others but amplified by their subsequent work.

Last October, Pohlhaus and the other owner sold the property. In a post to Telegram, a social media platform popular with white supremacists in the U.S., Pohlhaus mentioned he sold the property partly because of the increased media and political scrutiny he faced in the state. I initially laughed when I saw the post because I knew I had played a role in spotlighting his hateful activities.

However, our work at the SPLC took on a life of its own as others investigated the issue, and I’m pleased to see that Maine recognized the danger of such groups within their state. Communities must come together to effectively combat hate and extremism. And as Maine demonstrated, the results can be powerful.

Jeff Tischauser is a senior research analyst for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

Photo at top: A law signed by Gov. Janet Mills restricts paramilitary training in Maine in response to a neo-Nazi who wanted to create a training center for a Blood Tribe group. (Credit: AP Images)