A tiny town in Maine is getting ready for an intense national spotlight.
After a week of protests across the country over the death of George Floyd and systemic racism and in the middle of a global pandemic, rural Guilford, Maine, will host President Donald Trump Friday as he tours a factory for coronavirus test swabs.
But while many Guilford residents have supported the president, there are some concerns that the visit will bring disruption and the virus to the tiny, tight-knit town. The governor has already voiced concerns directly to the president about his visit causing unrest and the local sheriff on Tuesday urged counterprotesters to be peaceful, something a protest organizer has committed to.
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Bangor on Air Force One early Friday afternoon, according to preliminary guidance from the White House. He will then be transported to Guilford and the facilities of Hardwood Products LLC and Puritan Medical Products.
Guilford is about an hour northwest by car, though military helicopters were seen this week landing on school athletic fields minutes from the area Trump’s team says he’ll visit, suggesting the president may arrive by air.
The news of a presidential visit and its accompanying security preparation have excited quite a few people in the town of about 1,500 people, hundreds of whom voted for Trump in 2016 -- he beat Hillary Clinton in Guilford by an almost 2:1 ratio, according to state data.
"We are thrilled to death the president has decided to come here," said Paul Davis, a Republican state senator who represents the area, adding, "it’s a big deal."
The sentiment was echoed by Paul Zimmerman, owner of the Red Maple Inn, which is about a quarter-mile from the plant Trump will tour.
"It’s pretty awesome," said Zimmerman. "I see what this company does for people. It’s a totally awesome, family-run company like I am, but a smaller version."
In April, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Puritan Medical more than $75 million to double its monthly swab production capacity from 20 million to 40 million.
It's hiring more workers to keep up with demand and opening a brand new facility in Pittsfield, Maine.
While praise of Puritan and its help fighting the coronavirus pandemic is unanimous, views on the president choosing this week to praise workers there is not.
On Monday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, told the president on a call that she had security concerns about his visit to Maine after his heated rhetoric on the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death that, in many cities, have been used by instigators and vandals as opportunities to start looting and damaging property.
Mills said she worried Trump's "presence in Maine" would create "unrest" and urged him to avoid divisive rhetoric during his time in the state.
Other Democrats, including Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, who is also seeking to win a primary and unseat sitting Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, said Trump should not come to Maine at all.
"We don’t need you to come to our state to incite violence or to push people or pit people against one another," said Gideon at a virtual event on Tuesday evening. "That’s not how we do things here in Maine."
Speculation that opposing groups of people might descend on Guilford were all but confirmed by a Tuesday afternoon Facebook post from Piscataquis County Sheriff, Robert Young, whose agency oversees law enforcement in the area, which has few municipal police departments. Guilford does not have one at all.
"My job as Sheriff is to help provide a secure visit by the President, we are working closely with Secret Service, State Police, other Sheriffs’ Offices, to accomplish our role in Friday’s event," Young said.
He added: "I’ve been talking with the organizer of the Guilford protest. Their motives and intent are good, they want to speak for social change and are heart broken by what they see happening to their country. They desire the protest to be peaceful, and I believe they will do all they can to keep it so. I’m asking those who oppose the protest to do so peacefully as well. Violence generally begets violence, and is never going to solve the issues of our land."
The concern that protesters and Trump supporters may cause a significant disruption was felt by people in Guilford, who said their message to anyone visiting, regardless of their views, was to stay calm and respect the safety of everyone.
"Protest for whatever. I’ve been protesting in Augusta to reopen Maine," said Zimmerman. "There’s no police department that they’re going to overtake because we don’t have a police station... let’s keep it mellow."
Zimmerman also said he wanted to make sure anyone visiting, from the president’s team or not, respected a commencement ceremony scheduled for 8 p.m. at the area high school and would allow it to go forward unimpeded.
"My biggest thing is yes, the president’s coming to town. We have a graduation in our town, we’re not a big area, there’s 34 kids graduating and they deserve this after the two months they’ve just gone through not being able to go to school," he said.
Kelly MacFadyen, the superintendent of the area school system hosting the graduation, said she’s been working with the Secret Service to make sure students were minimally impacted by the visit.
"We are willing to step up to the challenge and make this work as best we can," she said in an emailed statement, adding, “it’s not the first time and it will not be the last time that we have had to make sacrifices for the good of the whole in this country.”
Guilford’s final concern is more universal: the uncertainty of large crowds descending on this small town in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zimmerman said he’s kept rooms at his motel closed to avoid anyone getting sick there. Others said they hoped protesters or visitors wore masks and practiced social distancing to keep Guilford’s number of cases low -- its county only has one person with the virus, according to the state.
"We kind of want to keep it that way, actually,” said Zimmerman.
He summed up his views with the sentiment that everyone, local, presidential or otherwise, simply should be respectful of each other’s safety, health and differences in opinion and, if they did, there less of a chance a celebration of hard work would turn into some type of chaotic display.
"It’s the United States, not the divided states. We should all be united," he said.