City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly found himself in hot water over the weekend for a Facebook comment with a meme mocking Christine Blasey Ford, the woman at the heart of sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The meme was a double whammy of conservative outrage, borrowing Nike’s Colin Kaepernick “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” ad campaign to replace it with an image of Blasey Ford being sworn into Thursday’s U.S. Senate hearing with the phrase “Believe in something, Even if you can’t remember everything.”
The comment was made under a post calling for people to contact U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and ask her to support Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
The post, unsurprisingly, was met with immense backlash in the Fairbanks community, with screenshots of his post quickly circulating. A post by the Facebook page by the Hrrrl Scouts, a local feminist group, highlighting his meme doubting the account of Blasey Ford garnered more than 300 likes and more than 200 shares.
Matherly reportedly (we say reportedly because it appears he’s since either deleted or made private his Facebook page) apologized for the post around midnight on Saturday.
“I understand the emotion surrounding this entire national conversation, and I am sympathetic to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh and especially too ALL victims of sexual assault,” he wrote, according to an account published by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “My sincere apologies for anyone that was offended by the sharing of that meme. I am truly sorry.”
His explanation for how the post was made by his account was about as believable as his non-apology.
“This meme was shared on a thread of one of my friends. It was shared from my personal iPhone. It was never posted to my main page,” he wrote, according to the News-Miner account. “Yesterday I was showing my new iPhone to my girlfriend and she was scrolling through my NewsFeed and saw the original post my friend made. She decided to share that meme about Dr. Ford in the thread, and my name was next to it.”
A statement later released by the Fairbanks Communications Director Teal Soden to the News-Miner, distanced itself from Matherly’s conduct.
“No matter what a person’s political views are, mocking any person that comes forward as a victim of sexual assault is in no way productive, is completely inappropriate, and in no way represents the City of Fairbanks,” she said. “The City of Fairbanks is made up of several departments and hundreds of employees committed to serving the residents of Fairbanks, and this should not diminish all the good work that this organization does every day.”
On Monday, the News-Miner published an open letter by UAF graduate student Barbara Johnson to Matherly that seeks to explain why Matherly’s post was so problematic, whether he pressed the publish button or not.
“The meme posted from your account is indicative of a misunderstanding of the dynamics of sexual assault and of trauma. A misunderstanding that helps continue a climate in which sexual assault is rampant and an everyday occurrence. Particularly in Fairbanks,” she wrote. “Think of the human brain as being a 24-volt appliance. Traumatic events are like 120-volt surges. Humans have an inbuilt mechanism that essentially shuts down our brains when a surge happens. It is a merciful coping mechanism. How this happens is different for every person. In my experience, time is distorted, and I remember some events but not others.”
But it’s this biological mechanism that Matherly–or Matherly’s girlfriend–other doubters and many Republican U.S. Senators have grasped onto in order to doubt, diminish and mock Blasey Ford.
“And yet the current social and legal system has an expectation of clear and detailed events. We expect survivors to remember everything, to be coherent, as they are trying to heal. We seem to be looking for every excuse to disbelieve survivors. Almost like we impose our own discomfort on survivors, willing their stories to go away to avoid facing the fact that the world we live in is truly this bad,” Johnson wrote. “We deserve better. And you failed us.”
It’s not the first time Matherly’s Facebook activity has made the news.
In 2017, the mayor came under fire for going after an elementary school teacher who put up a post critical of the Fairbanks Police Department for failing to solve a murder that used a profanity. Matherly had a screenshot of the post sent to the school district, asking if there was some sort of social media policy to handle it.
The teacher was not reprimanded because she was protected by, you know, the First Amendment.
In the story by the News-Miner, Matherly defended his policing of other people’s Facebook activity. He said it was a common activity, which included criticizing an employee of a local tourism marketing organization for a post critical of President Donald Trump.
His policing earned him the nickname “Mother Matherly” and at long last it looks like it’s caught up with him.