Former Ricketts campaign staffer tied to anti-Jewish, homophobic and racist posts

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts is condemning anti-Jewish, homophobic and racist posts reportedly made by a former campaign worker that were made public Sunday night by an anti-fascist website.

Ricketts, in a statement Monday, said he was “shocked and horrified” by the comments attributed to Bennett Bressman on a private chatroom operated by a white nationalist.

“I had no idea he harbored these feelings.  He never expressed these views to me,” Ricketts said. “I condemn these statements and this hateful worldview, which do not reflect my beliefs or the beliefs of Nebraskans.”

The posts by Bressman, as reported by the web site Anti-Fascist Nebraska, joked about the Holocaust and turning Israel into “a crater,” as well as posts that stated “gays are scum of the earth” and that he “probably would” drive his car into a Black Lives Matter crowd for the “lulz” (laughs).

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“My whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists,” he stated in another post.

The posts were first reported by the website on Sunday night, which said it obtained the private posts from a media collective called “Unicorn Riot,” which investigates the far right. Anti-Fascist Nebraska has posted stories sporadically in the past, focusing on anti-Semitic figures in Nebraska, including Gerhard Lauck, who has been active in the neo-Nazi movement, and a philosophy student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who declared, on fliers, that he was a “proud racist.”

Bressman’s father is Charles Bressman, an Omaha attorney. Reached Monday morning, the elder Bressman called his 22-year-old son’s actions “very foolish” and the product of his youth. He said the family is dealing with the matter.

“It was a foolish, stupid thing he has done,” Charles Bressman said. “He knows better and now he’s going to pay.”

The elder Bressman said his son will stand up and take responsibility for his actions.

The Anti-Fascist Nebraska website said the posts by Bressman required “swift and decisive action” by the governor and the Nebraska Republican Party.

“The only acceptable course of action is for Governor Ricketts to fire everyone on his staff, repatriate this land to the indigenous people it was stolen from, then resign in disgrace,” a statement on the website said.

Bressman began as a volunteer who was subsequently paid as a staffer for seven months on the governor’s re-election campaign. A student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he oversaw two dozen interns who made phone calls, walked neighborhoods and managed yard signs for the Ricketts campaign, according to a November story in the Lincoln Journal-Star. His employment with the governor’s campaign committee ended in December, according to the Ricketts campaign.

An Omaha phone number listed for Bressman, called on Monday, was not in service. Bressman could not be located via social media, and it appears that some of his accounts have been taken down.

The governor is mentioned in more than one chatroom post, including one that states Ricketts is good on economics but is not focused on social issues beyond abortion and guns. “But I plant seeds,” the post states.

A UNL political science professor who had Bressman as a student in the spring of 2017 and was mentioned in some of the posts said he was surprised and fearful after reading about the posts.

Ari Kohen, who is Jewish, taught Bressman in a class about modern political philosophy. He said in an interview the student never expressed anti-Semitic views in the class.

“It’s a little bit frightening to be honest,” Kohen said of the posts. “It’s sad that people feel this way in 2019.”

It’s the second time in a month that the Republican governor has had to condemn racist comments made by people associated with him. In February, a website published leaked emails of Ricketts’ father, Joe Ricketts, that included racist comments.