reporter's notebook

White Nationalist Ex-Staffer Just Latest Controversial Link For GOP Nebraska Gov

March 12, 2019 3:48 pm

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was “shocked and horrified” to learn Monday that the statewide field director for his 2018 reelection campaign was a “hate-filled” white nationalist. TPM was one of the first outlets to cover the story.

“I had no idea he harbored these feelings,” the GOP governor said of his former staffer, 22-year-old Bennett Bressman. “He never expressed these views to me. I condemn these statements and this hateful worldview.”

In a press release denouncing the leaked online chats in which Bressman jokes about killing Black Lives Matter activists and journalists, Ricketts’ campaign noted that the governor had, after all, “addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas in 2018” and promoted the sale of “Nebraska beef” in Israel on multiple occasions.

But this week’s revelations are hardly the first time the governor has faced questions about his links to people with controversial, hateful views.

Ricketts himself repeatedly donated to famously racist Iowa Rep. Steve King. Ricketts gave King — who retweets open white nationalists and frets that whites will no longer be a majority in the U.S. — some $20,400 between 2009 and 2016.

Questioned about those donations after King asked in January how the terms “white nationalist, white supremacist” became offensive, Ricketts’ spokesman said that the governor “believes northwestern Iowans deserve a conservative voice in Congress who will continue fighting for tax relief, a vibrant economy, and strong family values.”

Then there’s Ricketts’ father, family patriarch and AmeriTrade founder Joe Ricketts. He made enemies in the media world in 2017 for shutting down alternative local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist as soon as they voted to unionize. More recently, he made headlines for exchanging shockingly racist emails.

In leaked communications, Joe Ricketts said that “Islam is a cult and not a religion” and that Muslims are a natural “enemy due to their deep antagonism and bias against non-Muslims.” He also pushed birther nonsense about Barack Obama. (To Pete Ricketts’ credit, he tried to convince his father to read a Snopes article trying to debunk stereotypes about Muslims.)

After the messages went public, Joe Ricketts said in a statement to the media: “I strongly believe that bigoted ideas are wrong.”

The Ricketts family has warmly embraced President Trump, however, despite his countless disparaging remarks about religious and ethnic minorities and his administration’s hostility towards immigrants, documented and otherwise. Trump appointed Gov. Ricketts as a member of his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations last year.

Ricketts’ brother, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, is even more closely linked to Trumpworld. After dropping his bid to become Trump’s deputy commerce secretary because of his overly complicated financial affairs, Todd Ricketts was named as finance chair for the Republican National Committee.

In February, the RNC announced that Ricketts will now oversee fundraising for Trump’s reelection as part of a joint effort by the 2020 campaign and RNC to secure a second term for the President.

“As we head toward 2020, I will work to ensure President Trump and his campaign have the resources they need to fight for the American people,” Ricketts said in a statement.

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