Police are expanding an investigation into who sent hate mail described by officials as “cowardly” and “malicious.”
Several homes in the city and South Portland in early January received identical letters containing images initially described as the logo of The Satanic Temple superimposed over a pride flag, followed by a homophobic slur. Two of the Portland homes displayed a pride flag; a resident of a third home is gay, but did not have a Pride flag, officials said.
Police said there is no indication The Satanic Temple or its members are responsible for the letters. A representative of the Salem, Massachusetts-based temple later confirmed the image is of a flag that The Satanic Temple sells on its website as an indication of “its own unwavering and consistent support for LGBTQIA+ communities.” The temple is a quasi-religious organization that uses satanic imagery to promote its agenda, which according to the website includes social justice causes and separation of church and state.
Since the initial information was released, Lt. Robert Martin said Tuesday, police have received six more reports of suspicious mailings, including two that were received last October. There were no threatening messages contained in the October letters, which invited the recipients to a discussion at Capisic Street address, but the topics targeted several groups and could be described as disconcerting, Martin said.
He said the letters identified the family that lived at the Capisic Street address and said they would be hosting the event. These people were interviewed, Martin said, and there is no reason to believe they were involved in the mailings.
The October mailings were sent to homes on Pinecrest Road and Brentwood Street, Martin said. The recent mailings were sent to homes on Fessenden Street, Whitney Avenue, Dartmouth Street, Dorothy Street, Capisic Street, and two homes on Brighton Avenue. Each home had displayed either flags or posters supporting LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, or a political candidate.
Former state Rep. Matt Moonen, executive director at Equality Maine, said the letters were a “cowardly move” targeting a vulnerable population. He said they clearly constitute hate crimes, and have been reported to the attorney general’s office for investigation and eventual prosecution.
“We have laws like this for a reason, and minorities should not and cannot be targeted with violent threats like this,” Moonen said.
The letters were also uniformly denounced by the Portland City Council. Councilor Andrew Zarro, who is gay, condemned the act and said this kind of threat happens daily.
“These malicious threats were delivered to the homes of Portland and South Portland residents, and we must reject this hate from our communities, and lead with compassion and empathy toward a brighter, more inclusive tomorrow,” Zarro said.
According to Martin, the letters were anonymous and addressed simply to “Residents,” with no return address included. Anyone who has received a similar letter is being asked to not open it, limit handling it, and call the police.
Updated Jan. 15, 2021, to include information from The Satanic Temple.