One evening about two weeks ago, Sean Floyd stood by a stretch of Swan Lake Avenue just south of the village center where, in prior weeks, he had erected a forest of signs in protest of his firing from the town's grocery store and his subsequent treatment by law enforcement.

He was wearing a black trench coat and a homemade headpiece he would later describe as his "Nazi pig mask," inspired by the World War II-era gas masks in Pink Floyd's movie "The Wall." It was dark, and he held flashing LED lights in each hand. A resident who was driving by at the time reported thinking: If this guy shoots up the town, no one is going to be surprised.

Floyd's signs will be familiar to anyone who has driven that stretch of road in the last five months. The largest includes an cartoon-bubble dialog with the district attorney, and a puppet figure with a "Free me" sign.

Early versions of the changing display referred to his firing from Swan Lake Grocery. But in recent months, the specifics were replaced with statements that were vague and sometimes ominous. Signs in red, black and white read "no free speech zone" and "dissent=terrorism." The roadside display sprawled across 100 feet of frontage and included witchy assemblages of sticks and boards.

The day before his masked roadside protest, he added a scarecrow-like figure holding what appeared to be a machine gun and an upside down crucifix. Its pants were smeared with blood.

Floyd is awaiting a court date for terrorizing with a dangerous weapon, a felony charge based on comments he made about wanting to shoot and torture people associated with the grocery store.

On seeing the new figure standing beside the road, some residents put one and one together and asked the police to step in for the safety of the community. But authorities felt the display didn't warrant getting involved. In order to take him into protective custody, they would have to judge him an imminent danger to himself or others. And at that point, they didn't believe either to be true.

Six months ago, Floyd was making puppet videos in his house — a one-room camp, set back from the road on land that once belonged to his great-grandfather and was parceled up and mostly sold off by subsequent generations. Floyd has lived other places but has always circled back to Swanville.

At various times, he studied mathematics, engineering and sociology. He plays guitar, drums and bass. Speaking recently at his home, he said he always wanted to make films but was daunted by the task of organizing a large crew. Puppets allowed him to do it all himself. Through experimentation, he came up with a free-standing design with a spring-loaded mouth that let him film large groups of characters, provided no more than two were talking at once.

Early videos posted to his YouTube channel "Puppetgut TV" — chosen because other usernames with the word "puppet" were taken, he said — feature a goateed beatnik, Brian Black, and his the poop-obsessed sidekick Bud of Bugs, along with a large cast of supporting characters.

By August 2018, he had a modest a following and was making plans for new videos exploring the fictional universe of his characters. He was regularly posting shout-outs to other channels and had started experimenting with live streams. In a social media milestone of sorts, he had a beef with another YouTuber. Then he was fired from his job at Swan Lake Grocery.

He believes the store's management turned on him after he reported that another employee was harassing him. Swan Lake Grocery's owners Debra and Robert Newcomb declined to comment for this story, referring The Republican Journal to their attorney, who did not immediately return calls from The Journal. A worker at the store said she had been asked not to comment.

Floyd returned to the store the next day with signs charging wrongful termination and alleging health safety violations, which he claimed to have seen before he was fired.

"I was angry," he said. "I was trying to get a reaction. I was whistle-blowing … I was trying to make them angry because they made me angry."

Over four or five days of protests, he said he spoke with police deputies daily and weathered threats from people he said were relatives or friends of the Newcombs. In his zeal to push the buttons of his persecutors, Floyd pushed, and occasionally overstepped, the legal limits of protected speech — a gray area that neither he nor police ultimately knew well enough to avoid conflict.

When he wasn't picketing the store, he was making rambling live videos on YouTube detailing his grievances. The unscripted monologues were freewheeling and candid. Had he said the same things to a friend, no harm likely would have come. But on YouTube, the videos were public, and police took some of his comments as threats.

Floyd said he never directly threatened anyone because he always qualified his statements. But the pictures he painted were vivid.

In a video titled "Calm down! – Nope." he spoke multiple times of wishing it were legal to shoot, torture and bomb his persecutors. In a heated moment, he said the employee responsible for his firing took his livelihood and tarnished his reputation, then added, "Give me a f_____ Desert Eagle and the back of her head and the legality to pull that trigger. I would not hesitate for a f_____ second. Not a second."

Responding later in the video to a follower who offered to troll Swan Lake Grocery, Floyd said he would like everyone but the owners and several employees to be removed from the store.

"And then I want the f____ thing firebombed," he said.

In an affidavit supporting his arrest and a charge of felony terrorizing with a dangerous weapon, a Waldo County Sheriff's deputy cited a number of similar statements, and noted that a pair of rifles were visible in a gun rack on the wall behind Floyd throughout the video.

Floyd said he was simply venting his frustration using exaggerated themes from rap music, heavy metal and video games — torturing his oppressors, detonating a nuclear bomb on them, executing them with a 9mm handgun and watching their brains splatter on the concrete. He was aware the statements might be used against him, he said, so he peppered the tirade with disclaimers.

"I was very clear that I was not going to act on it, in every instance," he said. "I said was venting." He would later challenge the connection between his destruction fantasies and his real-life ability to carry them out.

"I don't own a 9mm," he said. "I happen to have a couple of antique hunting rifles. One's a breech load, one's an old Sears and Roebuck .22. They're just antique things that I inherited. They're in a lot of my videos."

Floyd spent four days at Two Bridges Jail after his arrest and now wears an electronic ankle monitor. Among his bail conditions, he cannot possess firearms or use social media. Without access to YouTube, he started devoting more time to making signs and protesting.

As with the videos, the signs were just theater, he said, intended not to threaten but to draw attention to his cause. They did, but not always as he had hoped. Twice, he said, he was pelted from passing cars while standing by his signs — once with a half-full bottle of soda, another time with a hard squash.

He reported the incidents, along with a verbal death threat, to police but said his own safety concerns weren't taken seriously. At the same time, he sensed that police were clamping down on his smallest missteps.

Recently, he spent a weekend in jail after the battery in his ankle monitor went dead, which he attributes to a faulty charger he had asked multiple times to have replaced. When sheriff's deputies knocked on his door, he was sure that any misunderstanding could be explained. When he was hauled off to jail, he thought, I can't believe this is happening.

Floyd changed his signs after authorities decided he was targeting people named in his bail conditions. Absent specifics, the message of his roadside display suddenly became open to interpretation. The few words that that remained were broad-stroke statements: "Beware," "Obey."

To avoid running afoul of the law, he started thinking of it as art. When he stood with the signs, as on the night of the flashing lights and Nazi pig mask, he said he imagined himself as "part of the installation." If he had stopped there, he might have continued as a roadside curiosity.

The weekend after the blood-smeared figure with the gun and inverted cross appeared, Waldo County Sheriff's Office got three calls from people who felt threatened by it. Chief Deputy Jason Trundy said police looked at the display but didn't feel that it warranted action.

"Sometimes it's a balancing act when someone's behavior is disturbing but it doesn't fit cleanly within the confines of a law violation," Trundy said.

Waldo County Assistant District Attorney Bill Entwisle said his office also fielded calls from concerned residents. But after looking at criminal statutes, he came to a similar conclusion.

"I don't mean at all to discount the concerns that people have, but law enforcement can enforce the laws that are there," he said. "We can't go beyond what the laws allow us to do. Even with this figure that appears to be holding a gun, it's not expressly directed at any particular person. It doesn't convey an express message without reading into it."

At nearby Nickerson Elementary School, the scarecrow didn't send up major red flags. Administrative assistant Leslie Simmons said the school hadn't received any complaints from parents since Floyd took down a sign with a profane word spelled out in highlighted letters of a longer message. But staff members took notice, she said, and the general feeling was "don't poke the snake."

Asked if he was seen as dangerous as opposed to eccentric, Simmons gave a look that suggested the latter wasn't even part of the discussion. The staff of the school were thinking of him as a potential threat, she said. A visitor sitting in her office added, "Have you seen the videos?"

Floyd seemed surprised when presented with the idea that the scarecrow with the gun was him exacting bloody revenge. It was meant to be a police officer or authority figure, he said, protecting local powerful interests at the expense of regular townspeople, himself included.

"I'll make that more clear," he said. "He's supposed to be one of the guards for downtown Swanville. He's one of the fascists … Not me. This isn't me."

As of Feb. 12, the scarecrow's gun was holstered in its belt. The hand that once held it now gripped a stop sign with the words "free speech." A new sign indicated that it was the "Sheriff of $wanville (or a puppet made of junk and red paint)."

Floyd made his first appearance in court that day and was granted a continuation to allow time for him to consult with a private attorney he recently retained. He is scheduled to appear again on March 12.

If he could go back in time, he said, he would have been more careful in his videos. Not because he believes he scared the people whose violent executions he described — he doesn't, in contradiction of a police report based on interviews with those people. Rather, he would do it differently, he said, so his persecutors couldn't turn the law against him.

"I didn't break the law, but I gave them a straw they could grasp onto," he said.

Floyd said he's hoping to come through the legal system with his right to protest restored. He has filed a complaint with Maine Human Rights Commission for civil rights violations and intends to file a civil suit with a goal of instituting civil oversight of the Waldo County Sheriff's Office.

As for future protests, Floyd said he could imagine carrying a sign in downtown Swanville that reads "free speech" on one side and "peace" on the other. And maybe he'd walk by the store a few times. Based on what's happened so far, he expressed reservations about being openly antagonistic toward his persecutors, even if he thought it was within his rights.

"Other than suing and a few more protests to make a point, really, I'm not really interested in any of that," he said, "I might mock them in my videos. Maybe make characters loosely based on them."