Will UMF burn in Hell? Student Protests vs a Street Preacher on Campus

By Lillian Johnson, Contributing Writer

UMF – Students have now gathered twice in response to Ed Herrin’s presence on campus. The first gathering happened Monday, August 30, 2021: UMF’s first day of classes for the Fall semester. The second gathering happened recently on Thursday, September 23, 2021. Both events have been dubbed as “anti-Herrin protests.”

Ed Herrin is a religious individual whose presence is not welcome, but also not uncommon on the sidewalks in front of the Olsen Student Center. He is typically seen with signs, one of which depicts flames. He is primarily known by students for his aggressive behavior. Many students have testimony of him verbally attacking people for their attire or sexuality and invading their personal space.  His stance on LGBTQ+ rights is what has gotten the most attention of late.

Herrin’s presence on August 30th was first noted by UMF sophomore, Gage Varian, who decided to accompany Herrin in his sign holding, although Varian’s signage said very different things. “Bong Rips for Jesus” and “Milfs for Jesus” were a few of the things that were on the signs. They were sentiments that Varian hoped Herrin would find contrary and the student body would find funny. Varian’s only intention was to be a “another guy with a sign”; he couldn’t have predicted the type of gathering and support that he got from the student body.

“I didn’t expect much,” Varian said when we talked a few weeks later. Varian spent the summer on campus and as such had a few interactions with Herrin. Varian used words like “messed up” and “surreal” to describe the meetings between himself and Herrin over the summer, and believes that Herrin thinks of himself like “God’s Warrior”.

UMF junior Ryan MacDonald was at the first protest as well. He said people were chanting “Stop the Hate”.  MacDonald also talked about how there isn’t space on campus for Herrin’s type of hateful rhetoric.  “I feel like the harassment just isn’t okay,” said MacDonald, “It doesn’t spark a productive conversation.”

A productive conversation may have been had at the second protest on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Students again gathered, many wearing pride memorabilia, in response to Herrin’s presence. This time, Juli Halstrom led the charge.

Halstrom held a sign while yelling positive messages to students gathered nearby and those walking on the sidewalk. She said her messages were to “counteract his [Herrin’s] hate with love.” Halstrom gave testimony about her own experiences coming out and being part of the LGBTQ+ community. She talked to me about her first interaction with Herrin and how it played on her mind and troubled her for days afterward. Much of Halstrom’s message was met with cheers and applause.

While Halstrom interacted with the crowd,  a few students engaged in discussion with Herrin directly.  While it was clear it was a passionate conversation, both parties seemed respectful of one another. I overheard one student say “Spread love instead of hate” in terms of the way Herrin preaches to students. It was clear that the conversation had reached an emotional point for them. They left shortly afterwards.

A member of the community, Joan, even came to speak to Herrin on behalf of the students. The member identified themselves as Joan and said that she had heard the commotion from an art event happening at the same time. She said that the noise drew her attention from the exhibit. Having met Herrin before in downtown Farmington, Joan said that she believes his intentions to be good, and that in her conversation with Herrin she was told that he (Herrin) was saved at 20 when someone told him that he was going to hell. She believes that he believes that he could do the same at UMF.

Ryan Turano also spoke with Herrin at Thursday’s protest. Turano, who used to be religious, talked about how examples of extremism like this turns him off from religion. He also said that Herrin seemed to consider what Turano said. Turano said that he spoke of biblical examples where Jesus is seen dining with sinners and how even Jesus welcomed sinners. He asked Herrin why he would judge those whom Jesus wouldn’t have?

Those who did not directly interact with Herrin made signs and held various pride flags. The cars that drove by honked their horns and a few of the drivers yelled explicit messages at Herrin. An hour into the protest, a chess board was brought out. By 7pm, the crowd had not shrunk.

Early in the evening the Farmington Police Department was called by a student at the protest on the grounds of harassment. They showed up shortly after and talked with Herrin. UMFPD was also called but they have limited power in the matter as UMF has an active restraining order against Herrin. Herrin is limited to being on the sidewalks which are public property. Later in the evening, UMFPD did show up and urged the crowd to stay out of the street which they were creeping into.  A few minutes after that, two other law enforcement officers showed up. They urged the crowd out of the street and proceeded to have another conversation with Herrin. Shortly after, Herrin left. This was at 7:30pm and within a few minutes the rest of the crowd dispersed after almost two hours of protest.

While the protest was happening, I had a chance to listen in and participate in many conversations. Many students expressed their frustration at the seeming lack of action by the UMF administration. Most know that Herrin is legally allowed on the sidewalks, but not the Green.

“It is interesting the way UMF handles this,” said Reese, who expressed similar frustrations, “I wish UMF would work harder at finding a solution.”  Reese is one of many who’ve had interactions with Herrin. She said that he “rushed” her and invaded her personal space on her second day at UMF.  She also reflected on how Herrin’s presence doesn’t deliver on UMF’s promise of a safe space, but thinks that it’s important for students to see other students protesting and standing up for those ideals.

I got a chance to talk to Herrin without the presence of a crowd prior to the second protest on Tuesday Sept. 21. I was curious about his perspective and who this man is beyond someone yelling on campus. At first, he was nervous and reluctant to speak with me as a reporter, but agreed to talk after Sgt. Drake vouched for the Flyer. He told me that he was a “Born Again Christian ” who was “saved” at the age of 20 while he was a student at the University of Maine in Orono.  He hopes to “save” other 20 year olds.  In addition to UMF, Herrin also visits Bates College, Bowdoin College, and Colby College. He says he doesn’t have too many good interactions with students, but has had a few. When asked about harassing students, he seemed confused and denied nearly everything. He did however admit that he will “say something when two girls walk by holding hands.” He said he felt mocked by the first protest and Varian’s signs.  Sgt. Drake from UMFPD kept an eye on Herrin while he was on campus on Tuesday.

Herrin has appeared on campus multiple times since these incidents including on Saturday, October 2nd during the Fall Family Weekend.