Donovan: Morris was victim of racial harassment; no charges

BENNINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan says former state Representative Kiah Morris was the victim of vicious racism, but that the speech is protected under the First Amendment. Donovan made the announcement at a press conference Monday that ended in dramatic fashion after the man who admitted to harassing Morris showed up.

"It unfortunately needs to be said that I am not the cause of racism in this state," said Kiah Morris at the press conference in Bennington.

Morris in 2014 was elected to the Vermont House. The African American woman was also elected to a second term representing Bennington, but resigned abruptly last year after becoming the target of racial harassment online. Her home and car were also broken into.

"Our local, regional, state economic challenges cannot be laid at my feet. It is not on me to make everyone whole again. Nor is it my burden to help us all heal from this moment. That is your work today," Morris said.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan say Morris was "the victim of racial harassment," but says no charges will be filed because of free speech protections.

"The remedy for speech that we find objectionable and hateful is not for the government to suppress it," Donovan said.

When we asked Morris for her reaction to Donovan's report, her response was interrupted by the man who admits to harassing her. Max Misch showed up wearing a t-shirt that some say is an offensive symbol of the alt right. He defended his actions to members of the crowd who confronted him following the briefing.

"We act strange and weird because this shirt is a symbol of hate. Why didn't you wear a swastika?" asked one woman.

"This is just peppy the frog," Misch responded.

"Peppy the frog is a symbol of racism and anti-semitism. You know that. You know it when you put it on and you know people are going to feel afraid and sickened by that. Why do you have to walk into a valuable community conversation with that symbol of hate?" said a crowd member.

"Because I can," Misch responded.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: Are you intentionally being provocative?
Max Misch: Yeah, I'm a troll.
Reporter Adam Sullivan: Why? Why are you being provocative?
Max Misch: I like trolling people. It's fun.

Joanna Colwell of Middlebury says she showed up Tuesday to support racial justice. "The fact that hate crimes in Vermont have tripled since 2016 should show us that people who are on the side of love need to get really creative," she said.

That creativity was on display as Misch was surrounded by audience members after the event abruptly ended.

Morris appeared noticeably shaken by the turn of events and declined to comment on the unexpected end to the press conference.

Donovan Monday announced the creation of a "bias incident reporting system" that is designed to help law enforcement better coordinate to investigate these type of incidents as a way yo provide a civil remedy for victims of bigotry. Three forums on racism are also being organized across the state. The first one will take place in Bennington next month.