Gorham adviser slams ‘despicable’ attacks on him over former tie to Oathkeepers

hartwell

Gorham Councilor Benjamin Hartwell has been the target of hostile emails and ‘despicable’ social media posts following reports last week that he was a member of Oath Keepers several years ago .

Seventeen members of Oath Keepers face charges in connection with the January 6, 2021 assault on the United States Capitol. Its founder was charged with seditious conspiracy against the United States for his alleged role in organizing and planning the insurgency.

“I don’t support what happened on January 6,” Hartwell told the American Journal in his first in-person media interview since the story broke.

He denounces as a “witch hunt” the personal attacks against him based on an “alleged” remote connection with Oath Keepers.

A social media post called him a fascist, he said. Angry emails he and other Gorham officials have received, including some from non-Gorham residents, asking him to resign from the city council. His term expires in November and he is not seeking re-election.

An Army veteran of the Iraq War, Hartwell joined Oath Keepers in 2015 because of his advocacy for the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment right of citizens to bear arms, he said. The group said at the time that it was made up of active military, veterans, law enforcement and first responders, according to a 2015 Oath Keepers brochure Hartwell provided to the American Journal.

“We do not advocate or promote violence or acts of aggression against any person, group or organization or government,” the brochure states.

Hartwell did not renew his Oath Keepers membership, then $40 a year, when it expired in 2016, and he had not attended any of its meetings, he said.

“I had forgotten about the organization,” he said.

City Council Vice President James Hagar supports Hartwell.

“I believe him, on his word, that he did not meet or attend any meetings and let his membership expire. After all, he has nothing to gain by not telling the truth — everything he said can be researched and verified,” Hager said in an email to the American Journal.

Hager said Hartwell served the “country with pride” and that the “philosophies on which the band drew inspiration took on a different meaning.”

The Portland Press Herald reported last week on a list from the Anti-Defamation Center on extremism of public figures in the country who are members of Oath Keepers. Hartwell and another elected official from Maine were among the 38,000 names listed. Hartwell said the list was hacked and leaked to the league.

When reporters started calling him about the list, “I was totally taken aback,” he said.

Some people who saw the newspaper articles last week, Hartwell said, are making false claims. He cited as an example a social media post claiming to use his words: “I don’t know what the problem is, I’ve only dipped my toe in fascist waters for a year,” the post read.

Hartwell said that “is absolutely” a defamatory comment. Other commentators say they won’t vote for Hartwell, but he is not on the Nov. 8 ballot.

He told the American Journal that other priorities took precedence over seeking another term. He is the father of a daughter born in June and, in addition to his law practice in Portland, he operates a cattle farm in Gorham. The deadline for filing nomination papers for the next election was September 7, the day before the first article appeared on the Anti-Defamation League Center list in the Press Herald.

Gorham City Council Speaker Lee Pratt said the emails and phone calls he received were “50/50” in favor and against Hartwell, while Hager said the emails emails he had received asking Hartwell “to stand down”.

Pratt said Hartwell, who began serving on the board in 2013 and is a past president, has been and continues to be a dedicated member.

“Councillor Hartwell has not let recent news stop his dedication to Gorham Town and has focused on completing his term in the best interests of the citizens of Gorham,” Pratt said in an email to the American Journal.

Hager said Hartwell “has done a really good job of balancing the needs of the community and listening to both sides of any item presented to council.”

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Harry D. Gonzalez