Unity residents who signed a petition opposing the town’s embrace of “Pride Month” in May have found themselves targeted by the creator of an anonymous website that lists their names, addresses, and images scraped from their social media accounts.
In order to have their information removed from the website, the site’s creator is demanding a public statement of apology.
The website was created after 100 Unity residents signed a petition calling on the Unity Select Board to rescind approval of a proposal to decorate town property for Pride Month, a month that left-wing advocates have dedicated to celebrating people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.
Unity gave a grant of over $1,200 to the organization “Diversity in Unity” to paint rainbows on the town’s crosswalks and hang up flags.
On Saturday, May 13, a Unity resident gathered 100 signatures on a petition to “stop ALL decorating of Unity town property in support of Pride Month.”
The petition was ruled invalid by Unity’s town attorney. The town employee who conducted the review of the petition determined whether the petition signatories were registered or non-registered voters. [Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the “Rs” on the petitions indicated that a town employee had checked for party identification.]
In the weeks that followed, contentious debate over the decorations sprang up on an unofficial town Facebook page, “Taxpayers of Unity, Maine.”
On May 24, an anonymous individual created a website — “Unity Doesn’t Hate” — in order to expose and shame Unity residents who had signed the petition and force them into public apologies.
Whoever created the website obtained the petition after it was given to a Unity resident who filed a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request, thereby obtaining names of Unity residents who had objected to the rainbow decorations.
The Maine Wire obtained a copy of the FOAA request for the petition, which was submitted by Steve Czarny, who does graphic design and social media work for Diversity in Unity.
Despite being the person who submitted the records request for the petition, Czarny denied that he or anyone associated with Diversity in Unity is behind the website.
“As soon as I got the copy of that petition from the town office I distributed that across a couple different social networks, so it was out there,” Czarny said in a phone interview Monday.
“I don’t know anything about who’s hosting the website, I know it’s great and I love it,” Czarny said.
“Our group has been pretty forward about leading with love,” he added.
Unity Selectman tells creator of petition they might be committing a hate crime
According to additional public records obtained by the Maine Wire, the town administrative assistant Kari Hunt sent an email on May 18 to the town’s attorney regarding concerns over the petition.
Unity Selectman Tony Avila told the creator of the petition that they might be committing a hate crime by submitting the petition, according to Hunt.
“Tony Avila, our newest Selectboard member, saw the petition and out of concern contacted a family member of the creator of the petition, concerned that the petition might be a hate crime and to have someone look at it before submitting it to the town,” Hunt said in her email.
Petitioning a government office is not, in fact, a hate crime.
Hunt also asked the town’s attorney if she should give Czarny a copy of the petition, because Avila had “safety concerns for the people who signed the petition and [was] worried something may happen to them.”
“Is there anything the town can do to restrict or prevent or implement a policy for future events that would discourage hate and discontent?” Hunt asked the attorney.
The attorney, whose name was redacted in the FOAA-obtained document, responded by telling Hunt that she should provide Czarny with the petition with nothing redacted, as it is a public record.
The attorney added that because the petition does not call for a town meeting vote, the Select Board is not required to take any action on it.
Below is a copy of Hunt’s email to the town attorney and the attorney’s response:
“Unity Doesn’t Hate” demands residents apologize for social media posts
The “Unity Doesn’t Hate” website operator encourages Unity residents to inform on their fellow residents by submitting screenshots of their social media posts, many of which can be seen on the “Taxpayers of Unity, Maine” Facebook page.
“While the initial resistance was justified as a concern about taxpayer dollars being used to celebrate a holiday that did not represent everyone in the community, the online discussions quickly devolved into hate speech, revealing that the motivations behind the resistance had little to do with funding,” the site admin said.
In order to have your name and address removed from the site, the administrator requires you to write a “retraction and a public apology.”
“Please send an explanation of your regret to: email@example.com” the site says.
“See someone that you know and care about on this site? Use this as an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about why they may feel the way they do, and to share how your experiences have given you a different perspective,” it says.
The site admin says that it is posting the petition signer’s names and addresses for “informative purposes only,” and that they do not endorse “harassment, direct action, or any form of harmful behavior towards the individuals mentioned.”
The admin explains that he or she has received zero apologies, even though in their opinion the petition signers should feel “disappointed,” “regretful,” “afraid” and “ashamed.”
“Despite a small mountain of emails sharing thanks, encouragement, and support, the site has not received a single message of apology, regret, concession, or compromise from anyone featured on its pages during this time,” the admin says.
Although Czarny denied making the website, one Thorndike resident, Doug Nye, whose posts to the taxpayer Facebook page are the centerpiece of the website’s gallery, believes Czarny to be behind the site.
“It has come to my attention that I am the featured hater on Steve Czarny’s hatefull [sic] doxing website,” Nye said in a June 6 Facebook post.
“This guy is a maximum creep and I am sure he is reading this so be forewarned Steve you have crossed the delicate line of fascism,” he said. “
Nye said in his post that he will be exploring legal recourse against Czarny.
UPDATE: We have corrected a statement that the “Taxpayers of Unity” Facebook page is an official town page — it is an unofficial town page.
We also originally stated that sidewalks were decorated — it was only crosswalks, and that Doug Nye is a Unity resident — he is a Thorndike resident.