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Amid national unrest, President Trump visits small Maine town to tout his success

President Trump gave a thumbs up to supporters as he drove out of Guilford, Maine.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

GUILFORD, Maine — President Trump returned to Maine for the first time since the 2016 campaign Friday, a whirlwind tour that saw him relax federal fishing restrictions, tout lower-than-expected unemployment numbers, and praise a small-town company for its contribution to the fight against the coronavirus.

Trump’s trip to rural Maine marked his first time away from the capital since massive protests broke out across the nation over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. He visited Guilford, where throngs of supporters lined the streets and he toured the nation’s only manufacturer of nasal swabs used to detect coronavirus.


Trump supporters, left, clashed with protesters while they wait for the president's visit in Guilford Maine. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

It was not billed as a campaign trip, but Trump’s rhetoric made it seem that way. During a roundtable with commercial fisherman immediately after he landed in Bangor, Trump warned against electing “Sleepy Joe” Biden and chastised Maine’s Democratic governor Janet Mills, for not reopening the state more quickly.

Comparing her to a "dictator,” he said Mills was putting the state’s summer tourist season in jeopardy.

“She’s going to destroy your state,” he said. “I’m not a fan.”

Earlier in the week, Mills had urged Trump to cancel his visit, fearing he would generate large protests. After Trump returned to Washington D.C. Friday, Mills said in a statement that “I don’t care what the president says about me. I care what he does for Maine people. And that’s not very much.”

She also rejected Trump’s claim that Maine was slow to reopen. Mills said 13 of Maine’s 16 counties have been reopened and that the state was the first in New England to allow indoor dining at restaurants.

But in Guilford, a town of 1,500 about 45 miles northwest of Bangor, Trump’s visit was cause for celebration. Hours before Trump even departed the White House, several hundred people came into this town of 1,500 holding American flags and dressed in red, white, and blue. Supporters pumped their fists for passing cars and waved Trump reelection signs.


A protester with a "no more lies, no more hate" sign sat among Trump supports as they waited for the president's visit in Guilford, Maine. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

By noon, about 100 Trump protesters had gathered across from an old brick mill in the heart of town. Almost all wore masks, while many of those in the much larger contingent of Trump supporters did not.

Nearby, sheriff’s deputies gathered in small groups strung out along the sidewalks, and two civilians stood in the open with assault rifles held close to their chests. In Maine, that’s legal.

“You never know. If you expect some rain, bring an umbrella,” said Stephen Elliott, one of the men carrying a rifle. He had driven about 90 miles to Guilford from Palermo.

“I was up all night watching the rioting on the news, and I was all upset,” said Elliott, an Osterville, Mass., native. “I couldn’t live with myself if something happened and I wasn’t here.”

Beside him stood Josh Barnes, minister of the Second Baptist Church in Palermo, who also carried an assault rifle.

“We’re just trying to send a reminder to the people of faith to protect life, liberty, and property,” said Barnes, whose T-shirt read “Guns Save Lives.”

Trump did not mention Floyd’s death during the visit, according to the Associated Press. The death led to protests in Maine, and other states, for the past week. Though warmly received in Guilford, the Portland Press Herald editorial board called for his resignation on the day he visited the state.


Trump landed at Bangor International Airport shortly before 2 p.m. where he was met by local dignitaries including former Maine governor Paul LePage, who once billed himself as “Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.”

Just outside of the airport grounds, 200 protesters held signs and chanted “No justice, No peace.”

US Border Patrol pressed in on anti-Trump protesters as the president's motorcade arrived in Guilford, Maine. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Notable by her absence was Senator Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, who is locked in perhaps the most closely watched Senate contest in the country. Collins remained in Washington D.C., where she convened a Zoom meeting with local Maine officials about financial assistance for COVID-19 recovery and attended back-to-back campaign fund-raisers.

Although Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016, he came away with an Electoral College vote by winning the Second Congressional District, which includes Guilford. At the Puritan Medical Products plant, where workers wore shirts that read “Saving The World One Swab At A Time," Trump recalled that Maine voters had “treated me very nicely and I needed that one point.”

Trump also drew a crowd at the local high school, where spectators gathered hours in advance to see his helicopter land. At 3:40 p.m., a slow procession of police escorts, federal vehicles, and the presidential limousine left the school and headed to the plant.

As his motorcade turned the corner, a group of protesters greeted Trump with a loud chorus of boos.

“Vote him out!” they chanted. “Four more years!” came the reply from across the street.


Some arguments were more personal. Christopher Chilly, 48, a Trump protester from Guilford, engaged in a heated argument with Kerry Birmingham, 75, a Topsham man who said he served 40 years in the military.

Chilly, who said he supports the anti-fascist message of Antifa, called Trump a racist.

Birmingham raised his voice only a foot from Chilly’s face.

“Are you being paid to be here? I don’t respect you!” Birmingham said. “Antifa are people who want to destroy this country.”

The pair argued passionately and then separated peacefully. Meanwhile, law enforcement officers without masks began directing traffic out of town.

A passenger in a car held up their fist in solidarity as they passed anti-Trump protesters in Guilford, Maine. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

A 23-year-old Black man, who identified himself as Jessy A., said his trip from Portland had been worthwhile.

“When I heard this was going on, being a man of color, I had to come here,” he said. “I’m trying to educate the opposite side.”

The other side may include the brother-and-sister tandem of Russell Leach and Leisa Crowley, who had driven more than two hours from the Down East fishing village of Steuben to show their support for the president.

“They need to go home,” said Leach, a fisherman, as he nodded toward the nearby protesters.

“They’re insects,” Crowley said. “The Democratic Party needs to be brushed off the face of the earth. They’re anti-America.“

“He’s got our back,” Leach said of Trump. “If anyone can get us through this, it’s that man.”

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.