The difficult case of Matthias Cicotte
My former employer – the Alaskan Law Department beset by Gov. Mike Dunleavy scandal – made international news Wednesday when a Civil Division Assistant Attorney General Matthias Cicotte was exposed as a member secret of a far-right white Mormon nationalist group that was tweeting homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynist and violent hate speech under a pseudonym.
I worked a bit with Matthias. To be female, or Jewish, or person of color, or native, or trans, or gay, is working with cisgender-heterosexual white men that you know or suspect or must secretly have such opinions, but that are polished to your face. It’s scary, but some of us just live with this reality.
Either way, my notifications instantly exploded with comparisons between this situation and my case against the state. I have some complicated thoughts on this that I can only deal with in writing.
Here are the similarities based on what we know so far. I was active on social media in my personal time, just like Matthias. Assume for the sake of argument that, like me, this lawyer’s performance on the job was basically perfect, and it can be documented. This is roughly where the similarities end.
Here are the differences.
I have never blogged or written under a pseudonym. My employer was well aware of my blog and social media presence, all of which took place publicly and under my own name. Indeed, the state paid $ 10,000 to an outside lawyer, former Anchorage mayoral candidate Bill Evans, to investigate my blog at the behest of Mat-Su’s conservative crusaders. Mr. Evans’ investigation “cleared” me of any wrongdoing and I continued to speak out.
The substance of my speech was crude and irreverent, and after 2016, largely oriented towards criticism of Donald Trump. I have been very careful never to blog about state affairs or work, or to promote violence or bigotry of any kind. I have systematically removed all comments from my threads by suggesting. I stand behind every word I wrote on the internet and never cleaned up my content.
There is also the false equivalence between political speech and hate speech, and this false equivalence is rooted in power and privilege. As an American Jewish lawyer concerned about the rise of white supremacy and the erosion of democratic standards, I have issued statements under my own name denouncing the state of our constitutional democracy and rampant white nationalism. I am a lawyer who took an oath to uphold the constitution, and I felt that what was going on under Donald Trump (and Dunleavy) was inconsistent with that oath. I felt compelled to use my platform to oppose it.
Now keep in mind that a white Christian lawyer has powers and privileges. This is why there is no such thing as “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism”. When a group has power and privilege, and uses that power and privilege to oppress and marginalize others, it is a false equivalence to say that the protest discourse of marginalized and oppressed people is the same as the assertion continues of power and privilege through hate speech.
This is called gas lighting.
Arguably, an outspoken white supremacist shouldn’t be on a mission to serve a diverse audience through the legal profession, but it is difficult for the government to draw those lines. The idea of the government monitoring the personal social media of its employees is instinctively offensive to me as a lawyer and student of American constitutional democracy.
But this is the unfortunate corner in which this administration painted itself. Her boss having fired two high-performing Jewish women who were deputy attorneys general for their anti-Trump speech, the current attorney general, a Mormon, may have no choice but to do the same with a subordinate who has secretly promoted a far-right Mormon fundamentalist. white supremacist misogyny in her spare time.
This is a difficult question, and every fact counts. But generally speaking, I don’t think the government should control private speech or take personal action against its employees for their personal use of social media.
It’s one to watch for sure.
Libby bakalar is a lawyer and freelance writer who blogs at One Hot Mess Alaska. She is a former Deputy Attorney General of the State of Alaska.