HALLOWELL — Mackenzie Swift, a local restaurant server and bartender, didn’t realize the response to her Facebook post taking a stand against a group she said espouses racist rhetoric and is run by white supremacists would turn out the way it has.

MacKenzie Swift

But her social media post has ignited a flurry of responses and thorny questions, including the implications for employees and businesses who speak publicly about political and cultural topics against the background of tense national finger-pointing.

While she has received positive feedback on her Facebook post, both she and the Hallowell restaurant, Slates, have been intensely targeted by supporters and critics of the page. It’s also put Swift at odds with her employer.

The onslaught of reaction has ensnared the local police chief, who says he has been diverted for several days from his regular duties to deal with allegations of threats and harassment.

Lawrence Walters, a lawyer with the First Amendment law specialists Walters Law Group in Longwood, Florida, said it is becoming increasingly common to see employee-employer disputes over social media activity. He said private employers, generally, have the right to terminate employees over their activities outside of work, as long as it doesn’t violate equal opportunity or other standards.

“Employees need to be careful with respect to the actions they take,” Walters said. “We see, more often, employees being terminated or negatively impacted in their employment by things they do in their off time.”

 

A TIMELINE OF EVENTS

On July 25, Swift was critical of Maine for Mainers, a Facebook group administrated by former Jackman Town Manager Tom Kawczynski, in a post on her personal Facebook profile.

The post read:

“Hey all, there seems to be a new Facebook group called Maine For Mainers that is run by white supremacists (including the notorious Tom Kawczynski) and espousing racist rhetoric for the world to see. Its members include lots of local public figures including state politicians and business owners who clearly are either white supremacists or at the very least associated with them. It’s a public group so if you’re interested in finding out which politicians to make sure not to vote for or which businesses to boycott, go ahead and search the group’s member list.”

Kawczynski was fired from his job as Jackman town manager after an uproar about his racist views calling for people of different races to “voluntarily separate.”

The group, which has 362 members, states the following in its bio: “Maine for Mainers is a public discussion and organization group for US citizens residing in the state of Maine who believe our government’s primary and singular responsibility is to our own people in this state.”

While she has received positive feedback, Swift also has seen her job and employer targeted, the restaurant criticized by her mother on Facebook and a divisive social media debate started about how Slates owner Wendy Larson should respond.

Larson, who was not connected to Swift’s post, first received messages from members of the Maine for Mainers group asking her to disavow her employee. Then her business was threatened with boycotts by people saying she hasn’t done enough to support Swift.

Swift said Maine for Mainers group members found her post and that she worked at Slates. She said a member of the group urged others “to start contacting Slates to demand that they publicly disavow me.” They also accused her of libel, challenged her assessment of the group, commented on her weight and said they would go to the restaurant, she said.

She said she was caught off-guard by the reaction and didn’t realize her place of employment was publicly visible on her Facebook profile. She said the group “doxxed” her. Doxxing is a slang term for revealing someone’s personal or identifying information on the internet.

Larson said she became involved after Swift stated, in a now-deleted Facebook post, she would not be fired for her actions. Swift confirmed that post to the Kennebec Journal.

“I had made a post after they started harassing Slates and encouraging them to fire me, stating that I wasn’t being fired because, given Slates’ progressive background, I had assumed that I wouldn’t be in trouble for speaking out against white supremacy,” Swift said. “(Management) made me delete the post because she said I couldn’t state that I wasn’t fired by Slates because a decision hadn’t been made yet.”

Larson said Thursday morning that Swift, who has not attended scheduled shifts because she feels unsafe, is still a Slates employee. The restaurant owner said Maine for Mainers group members sent messages to Slates, but they were not threatening in nature.

Swift said she asked for copies of the messages from Larson, who declined. Swift argued that not handing over the messages was a failure to protect her and that she was threatened with termination if she did not come to work.

“I told Wendy I didn’t feel comfortable coming to work while there were statements made by members of this white supremacist group that they were going to come in, if I wasn’t allowed to have the info I needed to get cease harassment orders,” she said. “Wendy told me that she wouldn’t give me any help finding coverage for my shifts and that if I didn’t find coverage on my own, I was fired.

“The next day, Wendy called me … and apologized for threatening to fire me,” Swift added, “but told me if I can’t find coverage for my shifts, I should come face the music and be ‘gentler’ with the white supremacists.”

Larson said she did not turn over the messages to Swift because they were “non-threatening” and she thought her employee would publicize the names in the emails like in her initial post.

“I don’t want to be a part of any of that,” she said. “I don’t want either side hurting anybody.”

Larson said she told Swift she would help her if she was confronted at Slates, but she still had to come to work.

“I told her that she needed to work, because you can’t just not come to work,” she said. “But I would stand beside, and if anybody ever came, I would talk to them and she could walk out the back door.

Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason said Thursday that he has been diverted for several days from his regular duties to deal with an online maelstrom that arose from a flurry of social media activity about a city business, Slates. He said no crime has occurred. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“Her push was that I say publicly that white supremacists are not welcome at Slates,” Larson added. “I said to her I am a business owner, and I do welcome all people. There’s no way I can ask somebody coming through the door, ‘What are your affiliations?’ And as long as everyone is respectful to each other, I feel like this is a public place. I am not a supporter of white supremacy, but that is me personally.”

Swift said she reported this to the Hallowell Police Department, but Police Chief Eric Nason said he has not received documentation showing any threats. He said he has reviewed all 13 pages of documentation Slates provided him. Nason said there are “no threats to Slates or any of its employees” in the documents.

“It was just a lot of drama is what it is,” he said. “People are expressing opinions back and forth, and people feel strongly about a particular subject, and that’s when Facebook kind of blows up.”

Nason said the controversy has taken his time for the past several days, but he has not filled out a report on the situation because no crime has been committed.

Things ramped up on Sunday when Sass Linneken, who Swift identified as her mother, penned a public Facebook post saying Slates “sympathizes with Nazis.” The post said the group “conducted a targeted campaign to get her fired from her job” and made “veiled threats” against Swift’s partner and children.

“DO NOT EAT AT SLATES. THIS GOES BEYOND COMPLICITY, THIS IS ACCESSORY,” the post reads.

The post sparked heated debate from Hallowell residents and Slates’ regulars.

Swift said she did not consult with her mother about the post, but its goal was to push Larson “toward explicitly denouncing white supremacy and supporting me as an employee by providing me with a safe work environment free of harassment and threats.”

Larson responded to Linneken’s post with a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, which has since been deleted.

“I have been a proponent of equal rights in Hallowell for 40 years. Slates does not tolerate hate, never has and never will. We have been a haven for diversity. I am opposed to any belief diminishing one person’s value over another. I am a firm believer in the First Amendment,” it read.

 

THE FALLOUT

Larson said her comment was designed to not “incite” either side of the issue, but it hasn’t quelled her critics.

Swift supporters, including Linneken, have said it wasn’t strong enough and should specifically denounce white supremacy.

A few negative reviews have also popped up on Slates’ Facebook page, which Larson said are coming from a group of people Swift and Linneken reached with their posts. She said people have threatened to leave more negative reviews if she does not explicitly denounce white supremacy.

“I am a progressive, and you shouldn’t be fighting me if you’re going to be fighting somebody,” Larson said. “The way to change is through talking and voting and education and getting fear out of people’s lives. It’s not through threatening.”

Larson also said her employees are “worried” about all the negative attention around the restaurant.

When asked if she understood Swift’s position, Larson said she understood her fear of retaliation from the group. However, Larson said, her not showing up to work hurts the business because she is needed in the restaurant.

“She sort of started this, but she wasn’t willing to stand in it,” she said.

When Swift was asked if she understood Larson’s position as a business owner that welcomes all, she said she did, but it was “dangerous” to welcome white supremacists.

“ … taking a stance that even white supremacists are welcome is dangerous and enables people who harbor those dangerous ideologies to feel emboldened to continue in public,” she wrote.

When asked if she meant to get Slates involved in the situation, Swift said it was never her intention.

“I think it’s important to make the distinction that Slates was dragged into my activities by Maine for Mainers, not me,” she said. “I don’t think that Slates being involved should’ve been an unintended consequence, because I think that people should be able to speak out against white supremacy without fear of being targeted at work.”

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