Hannah Michelle Bussa
Editor’s Note: Hannah Michelle Bussa is not affiliated with or work for any political campaign.
UPDATE: Gudgel’s campaign has officially severed ties to the Omniliberal Movement and Steven Bonnell in a statement on Tuesday after this article was initially posted online.
Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of violence, slurs, and rape.
Omaha mayoral candidate Mark Gudgel is currently facing questions regarding his connection to Steven Bonnell II, a popular Twitch streamer and liberal advocate who is under fire for inflammatory statements he’s made regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a clip from one of Bonnell’s Twitch streams that recently surfaced on social media, Bonnell – known online as “Destiny” – said, “The rioting need to f—king stop, and if that means, like white redneck f—king militia dudes out there mowing down dips—t [Black Lives Matter] protestors that think they can torch buildings at 10 p.m., then, at this point, they have my f—king blessing, because holy s—t, this f—king s—t needs to stop, it needed to stop a long time ago.”
Responding to this clip, Bonnell said he was frustrated that people “misconstrued a 16-second cut from a larger conversation” and that he “unequivocally support BLM’s right to both protest and riot against the public institutions that they view as oppressive.”
In the full video, where Bonnell says “optics are everything,” he only added that he thought the rioting would give former President Trump a path to victory in the November election. His message about protestors did not change.
In addition to the statement made in the full video, Bonnell said, “Then the white people are out there angry that their businesses are getting blown up when they’re blowing away protestors. Then everybody can just be angry and mad.”
The video was posted on August 31, 2020, almost three months to the day after the death of James Scurlock amidst similar violence that Bonnell promoted. Mark Gudgel’s campaign was not officially discussed in the local media until September 29, 2020, nearly a month after this statement was made.
In response to the clip being discussed on social media, Bonnell said, “I hope [the people bringing this clip and its connection to Gudgel’s campaign] realize the real harm they are doing to democracy by discouraging political action with their attacks.”
However, in a feature Wired article on Bonnell, he seemed to have a different idea about American democracy.
“I think that people, in general, are stupid, and I’ve actually lost my appreciation for democracy at this point,” he said.
Other older videos and statements by Bonnell in the past have also come to light, including one where he uses the n-word and f-slur.
The Wired article also described some other comments he has made in the past, including telling a sexual assault survivor, “I hope you get raped with a f—king shovel.”
With these statements, many on social media have questioned Bonnell’s connections to Gudgel’s campaign.
Bonnell currently lives in California, but his son still lives in Omaha. Bonnell is the founder of a group called the Omniliberal Movement (OLM), and as an Omaha native, Bonnell decided to support an Omaha candidate for mayor.
In a statement posted on Tuesday, Gudgel said that his campaign is proud to be partnered with OLM, but they do not receive campaign money from the group, though OLM has “two separate paid consultants in Omaha” and is “housing and mentoring 10 full-time volunteers.”
Gudgel also distanced himself from Bonnell’s controversial comments.
“I recently learned that Steven Bonnell II made a reprehensible statement last summer inciting violence against protestors while communicating with his followers on Twitch,” said Gudgel in the statement. “When I heard these remarks, I was disgusted.”
However, his statement did not make a clear break with Bonnell. Instead, Eric Keisling, Gudgel’s campaign manager, simply said that Bonnell “is not a member of our campaign staff, and does not speak for the campaign.”
Nonetheless, while Bonnell may not be a paid staff member, he has been actively supporting and fundraising for Gudgel’s campaign. Bonnell featured Gudgel on his Twitch stream to do a Q&A, he was a guest on Gudgel’s podcast and raised money for the campaign via PayPal. It appears Bonnell is continuing to be involved in future canvassing events for the campaign as well.
Gudgel’s statement called for a focus on policies in the Omaha mayoral race, but this is still an issue for some voters.
Amelia Rosser, owner of Sheelytown Market, has publicly discussed her concerns as an engaged community member.
“I learned that Gudgel’s campaign was being largely supported by a subreddit community organized by Destiny,” she said. “Mark’s campaign accepting Destiny’s endorsement and support is problematic.”
Rosser has also been met by volunteers in her workplace.
“On February 27, an employee of Destiny, who made it very clear he wasn’t a campaign staffer, came into my shop,” she said.
After a bit of waiting, the man conversed with and pressured Rosser about Gudgel’s campaign and talking points. Rosser soon found out that this man and more volunteers were staying in the neighborhood of her business. He also came back the next day.
“It was unnerving as I felt I was being watched,” she said. “I did receive an email from Mark Gudgel. I replied with my experience and that I was not with any campaign. I told him that I did feel harassed. He has not responded to my concerns.”
Rosser said that this campaign strategy is not transparent and that accepting the endorsement of a problematic influencer is unsettling for her. She also said she has heard complaints about the volunteers aggressively knocking on doors.
“[I’ve heard they have been] responding to those voting for the Black women running that, ‘it isn’t Mark’s fault he’s white,’” she said.
Of the whole situation, Rosser said, “I come at this as somebody who is not part of any political campaigns during this election cycle, but instead as someone who smelled something fishy and found fish.”
As one of the most well-recognized protestors from last summer’s protests, Bear Alexander also responded to Gudgel’s acceptance of Bonnell’s support.
“My initial thought when I found out about this was, ‘Well, I’m voting for either Jasmine or Kimara, and [Gudgel] was never in my thoughts [about] the race in the first place,’” he said. “It’s still upsetting though that a man who claims to be for the people and reaching out to activists and community advocates [is also] working with a man so oblivious to any social complexities that led us to where we are now.”
After seeing Gudgel’s statement, Alexander said, “They are pretty much saying they don’t care what he said and will continue to work with him because he changed.’”
Alexander had only one course of action to suggest for Gudgel.
“Even if Mark doesn’t agree with this dude, at the very minimum, Mark is an accommodationist and not fit for Mayor,” Alexander said. “If [Mark] had no idea, he needs to disavow right away.”
Rosser handily agreed with Alexander’s assessment.
“Omaha deserves better and we can’t sit back and remain silent about these red flags,” Rosser said.