A talk with Shawn Loura
By Chris Busby
Most folks in Portland know Shawn Loura as the “Monument Square Peace Guy.” For quite a while after the start of the current world war on terrorism, Loura, 32, could be seen standing atop a bollard in the downtown square, flashing the “peace sign” to passing motorists and pedestrians and occasionally holding a protest sign.
He still does that once in a while, but not nearly as much. These days he’s just as likely to be somewhere in northern Maine, training with the First Maine Militia, or lecturing the Portland City Council on Constitutional law and the ideals of republican (small “r”) government. “I’ve kind of changed over the years,” he said. “I’ve gone from maybe a moderate with liberal views to a traditional conservative. A traditional conservative is someone who’s completely behind the Constitution.”
Loura ran for a City Council seat last year, and lost badly. He took out nomination papers for another run this year, but other interests and priorities dissuaded him from following through. Nonetheless, he’s been a regular – and to the councilors, maddening – presence at their meetings ever since. He recently took councilors to task for passing a resolution in favor of gun control, and harangued them earlier this month for what he perceives to be their unfair treatment of liquor license applicants, given the problems Loura, who has been homeless, has seen at city shelters.
The City Council isn’t much interested in listening to Loura’s views, so we recently sat down with him for a chat about that and other topics.
The Bollard: Most people know you as the ‘Peace Guy,’ but I’ve heard you express more militant views lately. Have you had a change of heart?
Loura: Well, I have, over the time since I’ve been at the monument, learned a great deal from talking with people. But I’m still 100-percent, adamantly opposed to the war on Iraq – the unconstitutionality of the war.
I went out to Utah for about three or four months and studied Constitutional law. I protested the Patriot Act there and became known as the quote-unquote ‘Patriot Act Guy.’
I’ve learned a lot about constitutional law, and I’ve also learned about the good ol’ boy system, if you will, on the City Council and in the police department and just in general.
How do you think this good ‘ol boy system works in Portland?
I t goes back to the days… when the Klan had a lot of push and a lot of support. They changed the city government into a good ‘ol boys system where you have a weak City Council, not a democratically, constitutionally elected mayor. Portland is one of the few cities in the country that don’t have an elected mayor.
We have a city management which basically controls the city, more or less. The councilors tend to support each other. Like, for example, when I was speaking, there was like two or three city councilors that got extremely offended and defended one another because [I pointed out] their biased support of certain establishments and attacks against others. I think it’s important that people get to see what’s really going on.
What’s the best way to try to expose this?
I believe the best way to get into that is [to examine] what they tend to favor versus what they seem to be attacking. A perfect example is certain bars versus other establishments. If you can look at which places they’re attacking versus which they’re supporting, you can see that there’s some sort of favortism going on, especially if you know that they’re friends with the people who own the places.
And then, if you want to try to compare the drug and alcohol problem or the violence going on in bars versus what goes on down at Preble Street — there’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of drama, there’s a lot of drugs, there’s a lot of alcohol going through that place. They’ll either just ignore certain people that are doing it, because they like them, or they’ll kick them out of there temporarily, but they always let them back and it always happens again. And yet the city’s never done anything about that. They just try to keep that quiet, because they have a personal agenda with that. If they’re going to be attacking bars because of those problems, why not be addressing the issues with Preble Street?
I myself, as a homeless individual just trying to get back on my own, I’m fed up with all the crap that goes on there. I’ve brought it before the wanna-be mayor and some of the councilors – I’ve tried to bring it before Councilor [Donna] Carr, and she’s promised to get back in touch with me and she’s repeatedly neglected to get back in touch with me… Jill Duson doesn’t want to change anything as far as the Oxford Street Shelter or Preble Street… and yet they’re attacking bars.
When I tried to address the issue and tried to bring out parallels between one establishment versus another, they tried to shut me up right away, and tried to claim that it didn’t relate at all.
I feel as though they have somewhat of a vendetta against me… There’s been times before when I’ve asked them direct questions and they’ve never even bothered to answer. I’ve had jobs off and on and I’m more or less a taxpayer, so I deserve some response from them. I’ve tried to help out the community. I’ve tried to even offer suggestions of what can happen, and they still just shut me up.
I was surprised to hear you speak up in favor of gun rights at a recent council meeting. What’s your position on that?
I strongly believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is not necessarily a statement of what our rights are, but it’s a statement of restricting centralized government, what they can and cannot do. According to the United States Constitution, it says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed, which means you can’t pass laws against people having guns — unless of course, they’re not lawful, law-abiding citizens. That’s perhaps one exception to the rule. You don’t want people that are maniacs running around with guns.
I know people see me as this sort of ‘peace guy.’ It’s not that I’m completely against war, per se. It’s that I’m against any war that’s unconstitutional and unjust. I do believe in defense, and with defense comes the right to bear arms – whether it be against a foreign invasion or if it becomes necessary to overthrow the government because of tyranny. If there’s no other peaceful means, then you’re only left with one option.
I’m not advocating violence, clearly. I’m just stating that if I’m going to believe in what I profess to believe — which is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — then I can’t say, ‘Well, I’m in favor of this right but I’m not in favor of that one.’
Given that we’re in the middle of what you consider an unconstitutional war, how close do you think we are to the point where we should consider taking up arms and overthrowing the government?
If we continue at the rate that we’re going, or if it escalates, I believe that within the next two to three years, unless things radically change, we will be looking at a violent revolution. I hope that it doesn’t need to come to that. I’d much rather see a Gandhi kind of revolution rather than a violent one. However, if it became necessary for a violent revolution, only after every other possible means had been completely exhausted, then I would be 100-percent behind that.
Have you been doing the peace-sign thing at all lately?
Periodically. Once in a while. But I’ve been more involved in studying Constitutional law and the intentions of our Founding Fathers. I’ve been studying republic versus democracy.
This country has gone from being a republic, which places the individual essentially on top, with democracy, where the individual is essentially at the bottom of the pool. The banks and the corporations have replaced where citizens and the government and the Constitution were. Democracy is nothing more than the tyranny of the majority. You’re gonna be putting the majority versus the minority, and in so doing you’re going to be ignoring essential Constitutional liberties.
You say you’re a commanding officer in the First Maine Militia. What’s your rank?
So what’s the militia about?
It goes back to the days of our Founding Fathers. The Second Amendment calls for a well-regulated militia.
The militia is about citizens. I am the militia; you could be the militia. Any American citizen who loves their country and wants to preserve their liberty can be a part of this. Not everybody who’s in a militia is a card-carrying member of the NRA and has 100 guns stashed away. You always have some nuts, but we try to avoid affiliating with nuts. We get busted that way.
One of my responsibilities is to educate people about what the modern militia movement is about. That we’re not crazy. There are people in the militia that are upstanding. We’re patriots. We love our country. We train on a regular basis – different tactics, some of us use guns, some don’t believe in guns for defense.
When people are thinking of enlisting in a militia or choose to be part of it, we first urge them to get to know what the militia’s about before they jump into it. Then, if they’re willing to use force, they can train. If they don’t want to use guns, they’re not required to. Some people use bows, some people use whatever they want to use. Some people are into militias but they’re more activists – they’re contacting their representatives, they’re organizing demonstrations, things like that. Around here you generally don’t see a lot of that, because Maine is a very liberal place.
Where do you guys train? Do you go off into the woods somewhere, or in an urban environment?
We definitely don’t train around here, unless it’s without guns. We have land up in northern Maine where we train. It’s private property.
How many people are in the First Maine Militia?
The First Maine is a small unit. A large portion of the unit is out of Portland and the surrounding areas, but we don’t generally give out names or numbers.
There are definitely militia groups out there that are, let’s say, anti-government. I definitely wouldn’t consider our group to be anti-government. We’re opposed to the tyranny within the government, and we want to try to work with the government to try to get back to where we’re supposed to be under Constitutional law. In fact, I’ve been trying to work with [local law enforcement agencies and rights organizations] on this…. I’m definitely willing to cooperate with groups that are concerned about civil liberties to make sure that we ourselves are also being held accountable, that we don’t try to overstep the Constitution. If we did that, if any of my men or women, regardless of their race, sex, or sexual orientation — we don’t discriminate — if any of them would do something in violation of Constitutional law, then I would personally hold them accountable and bring them before our own legal system, if you will… but would also make sure they were held accountable before the law of the land.
Do you personally train with weapons?
I do train with weapons. By nature, I’m a pacifist – pretty much always have been – and I don’t like to get violent and I don’t like to lose my temper…. It’s against my nature to be violent, but I do like to educate myself on how to use these things if there was ever a need for it. Personally, I focus more on making sure my unit is trained, but I also have to be trained myself.
We try to encourage [members of the unit] to get a degree or a license in something, that they have a career, they’re educated, that they’re not ignorant, uninformed. We don’t get mixed up in conspiracy theories.
Do you carry a weapon?
I plead the Fifth.