JACKMAN, MAINE — It’s been snowing off and on for a few days, and this town just 15 miles from the Canadian border is mostly white.
The snow will thaw. But racially, Jackman has been white for at least a century.
By the most recent available count, Jackman — “The Switzerland of Maine,” the signs around town say — is something like 96 percent white. So at places like Bishop’s Store and Mama Bears Restaurant, it’s possible for white residents to get through many days without ever considering race.
But when the Bangor Daily News reported that the new town manager, Tom Kawczynski, was also the man behind what one neo-Nazi website calls “a rising New England white ethnostate,” Jackman suddenly found itself in the center of a national controversy about racism, white nationalism, and the First Amendment.
Kawczynski, whose since-deleted social media posts also called Islam “the scourge of Western civilization” and said that “unattractive women make up the vast majority of feminists,” according to the Daily News, was fired Tuesday morning on a 4-0 vote by the town’s Board of Selectmen. He walked away with a $30,000 settlement in exchange for an agreement not to sue. He says his ideas have been taken out of context and inaccurately and unfairly portrayed by the media — a notion at which many here roll their eyes.
In Jackman, where ice-fishing sheds dot frozen ponds and the Four Seasons isn’t a high-end hotel but a snowmobile-friendly Main Street lounge that serves ribs, Kawczynski has caused something of an identity crisis. Town officials and residents have said they had no clue about what Kawczynski, who moved to town for the job about six months ago, was working on in his time off. He was fired four days after it came to light.
“I’m just so concerned about the town,” said Ron MacKenzie, 66, whose late wife was the town manager in Jackman for 15 years before she died in 2015. “We’re going to lose it all because of him being so freaking stupid.”
“It all” is a placid town driven by tourism — some of which will presumably dry up if it seems like the whole town was eager to turn itself into “New Albion,” Kawczynski’s name for his vision of a northern New England outpost dedicated to “western culture.”
If you understand “western culture” to be code for “white culture” — and, for some, it is — then that is, in some sense, already the case in Jackman. In the 2010 census, 0.1 percent of the population of 862 here was African-American: one person.
Many Jackman residents seemed happy to talk about their quiet town where everybody knows everybody else, and pleased that Kawczynski had been fired. Some described a town that welcomes seasonal workers from Mexico and Somalia who play soccer on town fields.
Others in town mentioned traces of Native American ancestry, and 1 percent of the population identified as Native American in the 2010 census.
But the notion that Jackman could be ground zero for some sort of white identity movement — something they’d never had to consider until about four days earlier — was mostly flabbergasting.
Going weeks or months or years without ever once thinking about race is the very essence of white privilege. But for some in Jackman, where nearly everybody looks the same, that can be hard to fathom.
Again and again on Tuesday, in the hours after Kawczynski was fired, residents seemed to grasp for the words to talk about what had happened. Raymond Levesque, who owns Bishop’s Store, I Scream Parlor, and Scrub Yer Duds Laundromat on Main Street, tried writing a letter to Kawczynski.
“I welcome all customers into my business regardless of their color, religion, nationality, sexual preference, or beliefs,” Levesque wrote, “and that does include you.”
Levesque’s grandfather, he said in the letter, was French-Canadian — like many in town — and had to change the sign on his store, and the name on his driver’s license, to Bishop because of discrimination. Levesque’s father didn’t have to make the same change, as time and familiarity wore away at that brand of bigotry.
“Please do not drag us further into your cause or agenda,” Levesque wrote, “as you are only hurting those whom you were hired to help.”
On Tuesday, after attending the morning meeting at which Kawczynski was fired, Levesque said the town manager had pulled the wool over people’s eyes.
“Our way of life is not his beliefs,” Levesque said. “It would be nice if he left.”
Kawczynski does not appear eager to leave. After his termination and settlement agreement was made official Tuesday morning, he spoke briefly at the town office. He said he accepted a firing without cause to take “unwanted media scrutiny off the town.” He did not return an e-mail for this story.
“Every time I say something, it ends up going to an editor who tells a lie or a slander about me or my movement,” Kawczynski said Monday night on an Internet radio show called “True Capitalist Radio.” Kawczynski said the reports failed to mention that the New Albion movement he envisions would be open to people of all races.
“It’s a cultural movement based in northern New England that’s designed to foster a culture built on western civilization,” Kawczynski said, while also espousing support for something he called white civil rights.
On Tuesday, I tried to find that 0.1 percent of the population — Jackman’s one black resident. But Peter Bragg isn’t here anymore. He’s buried a few miles north of town, in the Episcopal cemetery.
Bragg, who died in 2013 at 94, had moved to town about 30 years earlier with his father — a white Episcopal minister who had adopted him during a missionary trip.
On their way into town for the first time, Bragg and his father were stopped by a game warden who’d gotten a report of a black man and white man robbing a bank.
“And that’s how I met Peter Bragg,” said Glen Feeney, the former game warden who would become one of Bragg’s closest friends here. Bragg was gentle, easygoing, and happy, with a shock of white hair. He loved flowers and music and reading. If he was troubled by children who didn’t quite know what to make of their first time seeing a black man, he did not betray it. And if being the only black man in town was a burden, Bragg bore it with steady grace.
Once he’d moved to the now-closed nursing home in town, Feeney — then the security officer there — would take him on hunting trips or have him over for dinner. Bragg, who spoke several languages, tried to teach Feeney to speak Swahili, Feeney said, and their close friendship stands in stark contrast to any abhorrent ideas about the benefits of segregating society by race or by culture.
The last few days in town “would’ve hurt him,” said Sandra Feeney, who got to know Bragg over the last decades of his life. But Glen Feeney doesn’t think his friend would have said much: Bragg never talked badly about people.
When Bragg died, he didn’t want much, Feeney said. His grave was marked with a wooden cross that Feeney eventually replaced with a headstone.
His obituary included his birthday, the date of his death, and the place he called home: Jackman, Maine.