February 23, 2011- On Saturday night, when Mother Jones staffers tweeted a report that riot police might soon sweep demonstrators out of the Wisconsin capitol building—something that didn't end up happening—one Twitter user sent out a chilling public response: "Use live ammunition."
From my own Twitter account, I confronted the user, JCCentCom. He tweeted back that the demonstrators were "political enemies" and "thugs" who were "physically threatening legally elected officials." In response to such behavior, he said, "You're damned right I advocate deadly force." He later called me a "typical leftist," adding, "liberals hate police."
Only later did we realize that JCCentCom was a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana.
As one of 144 attorneys in that office, Jeff Cox has represented the people of his state for 10 years. And for much of that time, it turns out, he's vented similar feelings on Twitter and on his blog, Pro Cynic. In his nonpolitical tweets and blog posts, Cox displays a keen litigator's mind, writing sharply and often wittily on military history and professional basketball. But he evinces contempt for political opponents—from labeling President Obama an "incompetent and treasonous" enemy of the nation to comparing "enviro-Nazis" to Osama bin Laden, likening ex-Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Service Employees International Union members to Nazi "brownshirts" on multiple occasions, and referring to an Indianapolis teen as "a black teenage thug who was (deservedly) beaten up" by local police. A "sensible policy for handling Afghanistan," he offered, could be summed up as: "KILL! KILL! ANNIHILATE!"
Early Sunday, Mother Jones sent an email to Cox's work address at the Indiana attorney general's office, asking if the Twitter and blog comments were his, and if he could provide context for some of them. He responded shortly after from a personal email address: "For 'context?' Or to silence me? All my comments on twitter & my blog are my own and no one else's. And I can defend them all.
"[Y]ou will probably try to demonize me," he wrote, "but that comes with the territory."
To be sure, in the current political climate, partisan rhetoric has run hot online—and the Constitution guarantees everyone's right to such rhetoric. Nonetheless, a spokesman for the Indiana attorney general's office, Bryan Corbin, told Mother Jones that Cox's statements were "inflammatory," and he promised "an immediate review" of the matter. "We do not condone any comments that would threaten or imply violence or intimidation toward anyone," Corbin added.