Indiana deputy attorney general fired over Twitter posts
Indianapolis - An Indiana deputy attorney general has been fired after a magazine reported he used his Twitter account to urge police to use live ammunition against Wisconsin protesters.
Mother Jones reporter Adam Weinstein said he exchanged tweets with then-Indiana Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Cox over the weekend, and was disturbed by the messages he read from Cox.
The Mother Jones reporter tweeted riot police in Wisconsin had been ordered to clear protestors from the Capitol. A follower who has since been identified as Cox replied, "use live ammunition." When a staffer for the magazine tweeted back, Cox wrote "you're darned right I advocate deadly force."
Weinstein says he emailed Cox at the attorney general's office to confirm he was the one who had sent the "live ammunition" tweet. He says Cox confirmed it and invited more questions from Weinstein.
That's where the dialogue ended. Weinstein says from there, Cox never replied again.
Cox spoke with Eyewitness News and told us the tweet was all part of his online persona, which he described as a mixture of humor and satire to get people's attention.
"Of course I'm not an advocate of deadly force against people expressing their views, that's wrong. It's so ridiculous, I can't believe anyone took it literally," Cox said.
Weinstein told Eyewitness News Cox identified himself as a lawyer from Indianapolis. The reporter also got a tip from another reader that Cox was a public figure in the community.
"Obviously, we all have our constitutional right to say what we want, but when it's a public servant, there's always a question of is there a greater sense of decorum that should be dominating here," said Weinstein.
Cox said he's had a blog for several years called Pro Cynic that the attorney general's office knew about and often garnered him praise.
"When you're on a blog and you post something serious, a lot of times people don't read it. You have to say something outlandish in order to get their attention and in this instance it obviously backfired. But I hate to think by someone's virtue of public employment they lose their first amendment right to freedom of speech," said Cox. "I think we may be getting down a slippery slope when people have to watch what they say in their off hours, on their own time, because someone may not agree with them and use it to silence them."
The controversy comes six weeks after the mass shooting in Tucson that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords seriously injured. Cox admits his comments were ill-timed.
"I would have to say, I'm sorry that I made an inflammatory statement that could have been taken literally, even though it was not meant that way," he said.
Still, after seeing Cox's other posts, such as "kill! kill! annihilate! to handle Afghanistan," the attorney general's office said, "We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views...but as public servants, we're held to a higher standard."
The Attorney General's Office issued this statement this afternoon:
"Today the Indiana Attorney General's Office announced that Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Cox is no longer employed by this agency.
The Indiana Attorney General's Office conducted a thorough and expeditious review after "Mother Jones" magazine today published an article attributing private Twitter postings and private blog postings to Cox.
Civility and courtesy toward all members of the public are very important to the Indiana Attorney General's Office. We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility."
Cox issued an "official statement" to the media about his termination Wednesday night.
"Today I was fired from my position at the Office of the Indiana Attorney General for statements that I made on my personal Twitter account and blog Pro Cynic outside of work.
This past weekend I was contacted by a far leftist blogger from San Francisco who didn't like a recent Twitter post I made which was clearly political satire. My post used a ridiculous tone and solution to the challenges associated with the Wisconsin statehouse protests. In no way was my post meant to be taken literally and I don't think any reasonable person would conclude otherwise.
This post and many other outrageous comments made by me on either Twitter or my blog over the years have been a combination of serious political debate and over-the-top cynicism. This approach has successfully served to get people's attention and draw them into a substantive debate on political issues of the day. I have never posted anything that related to my duties and responsibilities with the state. Nor have I ever used state resources or blogged during or at work.
The big question before us is whether or not public employees maintain their First Amendment rights once hired by the government. The Attorney General's Office was well aware of my blog which started over seven years ago and at no time did they express any concern about its content.
Today that office stated that "We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility." Does this mean that a public employee has "first amendment rights" unless your government feels you are not "civil" enough or meeting an undefined "higher standard" even away from the workplace?
Yes, I made a lousy choice of words that too many people find "out-of-bounds" today. I regret that decision and will tone things down in the future. Yet, this entire situation has been blown out of proportion and has highlighted what I feel is a double standard regarding who can talk and who can't."