Alaska’s attorney general has removed the caseload from his embattled assistant, Matthias Cicotte, who is being investigated for reportedly using a #DezNat Twitter handle to post homophobic, antisemitic, sexist and racist comments on the social media platform.
“The allegations raised against Mr. Cicotte are very serious,” Treg Taylor wrote in an email to the Department of Law, “and we are currently working with the Division of Personnel and Labor Relations to conduct an investigation into the various claims.”
Taylor told the members of his department that he found the tweets “at the center of this matter” — allegedly written by Cicotte, a graduate of Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, “deeply troubling and offensive.”
They do not “represent the views of the State of Alaska, the Department of Law and certainly do not represent my personal views or my deeply held faith,” wrote Taylor, who also earned his law degree from BYU, which is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The contemptuous views expressed in these tweets, which are based solely on the race, religion, sex, and political identity of others, fall very far from the standard.”
Because Cicotte’s case “involves personnel issues and an ongoing investigation,” Taylor declined to comment further, except to assure the department that he does “not share or condone the personal views espoused by the subject Twitter [handle] or in other posts using #DezNat.”
The hashtag, which stands for Deseret Nation or Nationalism, was coined in 2018 as a loosely aligned digital network of self-appointed warriors to defend the doctrines and practices of the LDS Church.
The Utah-based faith has pointed out that #DezNat is “not affiliated with or endorsed by [the church]” and has decried any racist or uncivil interactions.
Taylor wrote that Cicotte’s “status with the Department of Law is subject to change at any time as our investigation continues.”
Cicotte is accused of using the #DezNat Twitter handle @JReubenCIark — which uses an uppercase I in the last name, instead of a lowercase L — to advocate “various extreme positions,” according to an article in The Guardian, “including the summary imprisonment of Black Lives Matter protesters; vigilante violence against left-wing groups; and a punishment of execution for acts including performing gender reassignment surgery.”
The Provo law school — which is named for former Latter-day Saint apostle J. Reuben Clark — distanced itself from those tweets.
“In light of the news report that a BYU Law alumnus has directed venomous and hateful Twitter messages against a variety of vulnerable groups, and in light of persistent vitriol and ugliness in civic discourse, both locally and nationally,” law school Dean D. Gordon Smith and Associate Deans Justin Collings and Carolina Núñez wrote to students, faculty and staff, “we wish to reinforce and reaffirm our commitment to the ideals articulated in the BYU Law Mission Statement” — including recognizing the “inherent dignity and equality of each individual.”
As a school and community, the school administrators wrote, “we aim to advance justice, mercy, liberty, opportunity, peace, and the rule of law.”
Because of BYU’s “unequivocal commitment to these ideals,” they wrote, “we renounce hate-filled or violent rhetoric deployed by anyone against any individual or group. Our commitments require us to love and honor all people as children of God, and they demand that our public and private discourse be marked by civility, compassion, and mutual respect.”
Second-year law student Ian McLaughlin believes that message did not go far enough.
“It fails to reckon with the school’s own history, and its potential responsibility for Cicotte,” McLaughlin wrote in an email. “Cicotte chose the school’s namesake, J. Reuben Clark, as his pseudonym. Many of the ideas he spouted were direct echoes of views the real Clark held and promoted.”
J. Reuben Clark was a member of the faith’s governing First Presidency from 1933 to 1961, as well as an outspoken proponent of racial segregation, according to his biographer, the late D. Michael Quinn, and who had “personal prejudices toward Jews.”
How is BYU “continuing to prop up Clark’s reputation and authority among Latter-day Saints,” McLaughlin asked, “by carrying his name (without any contextualization)?”