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Spokane Symphony administrator resigns when confronted about racist, conspiratorial tweets

UPDATED: Wed., July 8, 2020

 (Twitter)
(Twitter)

A longtime Spokane Symphony administrator resigned Wednesday after the organization learned of a semi-anonymous Twitter account that she used to promote racist conspiracy theories.

In since-deleted tweets uncovered by KHQ, Bethany Schoeff-Cotter referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as “a disease on this country” and suggested the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is a hoax designed to influence this year’s elections.

Schoeff-Cotter also called those who wear masks to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus “idiots” and accused Microsoft founder Bill Gates of a plot to force vaccines and microchips on the American public.

Schoeff-Cotter, 41, spent 11 years as the symphony’s personnel manager and more recently assumed the additional role of artistic administration director, responsible for booking soloists and organizing concerts. A classically trained oboist, she regularly performed with the orchestra, though she was not on the official roster of musicians. She is married to the symphony’s general manager, Daniel Cotter.

Jeff vom Saal, the executive director of the nonprofit symphony, said he first learned of the posts from a KHQ reporter Wednesday morning. Schoeff-Cotter offered her resignation after being confronted about the posts and seemed remorseful, he said.

“What she is representing is totally inconsistent with our positions on tolerance and openness,” vom Saal said. “The bottom line is that we don’t condone what she said, and we find it actually disheartening, disturbing. It’s just not who we are.”

Schoeff-Cotter’s tweets violated the symphony’s employee social media policy, vom Saal said. Moreover, he said, it would be hypocritical for the symphony to condone those comments at the same time the organization is expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a statement on its website, the symphony has pledged to conduct an internal “cultural audit,” build a more racially diverse board of trustees, reestablish a partnership with the Spokane Tribe of Indians and be more inclusive in its musical and educational programming.

“I do believe in freedom of speech. I think it’s a really important thing,” vom Saal said. “I also believe in having purposeful positions as a public entity, and as a community entity, that are in the best interest of our public.”

Schoeff-Cotter’s now-defunct Twitter account did not feature her name, but at various points she posted a photo of herself and publicly described her role with the Spokane Symphony. She used the account to promote baseless conspiracy theories as recently as Wednesday morning, when she referred to Gates as a “known eugenist.”

On June 6, she suggested Floyd was not actually suffocated to death by a Minneapolis police officer when she responded to another Twitter user’s comment with, “And he can pay for the damage his ‘death’ has caused,” putting the word “death” in quotation marks.

On June 30, she wrote “Truth” in response to a post saying COVID-19 “may NEVER exist” and Floyd “would be just another death, if he’s dead,” if 2020 weren’t an election year.

KHQ captured screenshots of some of Schoeff-Cotter’s tweets before she deleted them.

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Schoeff-Cotter told The Spokesman-Review she has suffered from depression and other health issues while stuck at home due to the COVID-19 shutdown. She said she’s spent too much time on social media and wrote some posts she now regrets while not thinking clearly. Other posts were “half-joking” and should not be taken seriously, she said.

“I’ve probably been doing it late at night when I should be sleeping, and you’re kind of not totally coherent – you’re just like saying stupid things,” she said.

Schoeff-Cotter denied she harbors racist beliefs and said she understands why many would be offended by some of her posts. But she said she would not apologize for dabbling in conspiracy theories, and suggested people react too harshly to remarks deemed politically incorrect.

“I do have some opinions that are strong, and I try to research, like, scientific data on different things,” she said. “I do see a lot of people just shutting each other down immediately instead of making it a learning moment.”

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