On the evening of Feb. 27, area residents who oppose coronavirus public health mandates, shopped around the Belfast Hannaford without masks to protest the requirements. In a 17-minute video, protesters captured during the event and posted to YouTube, participants could be heard talking among themselves.

Toward the end of the video protesters are heard talking to police, first inside the store, then outside. The officers attempt to reason with the group by reinforcing their position as neutral entities whose job is to uphold the law. They try to liken the mask mandate to the no shirt, no shoes policy.

Protesters tell officers outside the store that they were never asked to leave. No Hannaford employees were recorded asking any of the protesters heard in the recording to leave. It is unclear what types of conversations employees might have had with other protesters not in the video.

Belfast Police Chief Gerry Lincoln said only two officers responded to the complaint, which resulted in no violations. The department tries to educate the general public regarding the coronavirus mandates.

Hannaford requires the use of masks in all of its stores and issues free masks to those who do not have one, External Communications Manager Ericka Dodge said. Customers not wearing masks are asked to leave. It is also Hannaford policy to get permission before filming in the company’s stores.

Maine resident Tom Hardy participated in the event and said those present were a collection of like-minded people. “We all have one thing in common though,” he said, “and that is the fact that mask mandates and fining businesses into enforcing illegal mandates is a gross abuse of power.”

Public reaction to their protests in the Midcoast is mixed, he said. They have had people approach them with gratitude for their not wearing a mask, while some employees look at them visibly frustrated.

He said they get a lot of inquiries about when the next shopping trip without masks is planned.

The Hannaford video was posted to YouTube by Beacon For Sovereignty, which, member Richard Coffron told The Republican Journal in a March 26 interview, is based primarily in the central and western part of the state and has little to do with protests in the Midcoast. He said BFS often posts videos on behalf of other groups, and its members sometimes take part in events organized by others.

Such is the case with a YouTube video showing members of the organizationno Patriots with Attitude entering the Augusta Walmart, as well as one showing the Belfast-area residents entering the local Tractor Supply Co. store without masks. All the groups claim to be raising awareness for people with disabilities who cannot wear masks or have difficulty doing so.

New mask mandates passed by the governor in late 2020 eliminated disability exemptions after retailers reported that people were abusing the exemption.

Beacon For Sovereignty sent out a resolution questioning the basis for the mandate to several Maine towns for consideration. The resolution asks state government to cease all violations of the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and identifies Mills’ executive order as a violation of the ADA and the Constitution. Montville received the resolution, but took no action on it.

“There has been a public outcry from individuals that have had their rights infringed upon,” the group wrote in a letter to towns sent with the resolution. “Wide spread accommodations are not being met for those with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, lack of internet, and/or lack of transportation.”

Coffron said after Steuben and Piscataquis County passed resolutions, it was inspired to present its own, which has been adopted by Frankfort, South Paris and several other localities.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct inaccuracies concerning Beacon For Sovereignty's role in protests in Belfast, its responsibility for videos it posted on behalf of other groups, and entities that have signed its resolution.