An Omaha North High School teacher is staying in the race for Omaha mayor after cutting ties with a donor who made violent comments about Black Lives Matter protesters during a Twitch stream.
The comments were made last summer but recently resurfaced in an article from the University of Nebraska-Omaha student newspaper, The Gateway.
Mark Gudgel, a 39-year-old Democrat, said he failed in doing his research on the streamer Steven Bonnell II, known online as Destiny, who said on one stream that “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.”
The comments especially struck home in Bonnell’s hometown of Omaha where only a few months earlier Jake Gardner shot and killed young protester James Scurlock outside Gardner’s Old Market bar. Gardner was not charged by Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine who found the former bar owner had reason to believe his life and property were in danger. Gardner was later charged with manslaughter, but committed suicide after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
“I will admit, this was a failure on my part and I am sorry,” Gudgel said. “For somebody who has has relatively substantial academic credentials, I did not vet my source. I did not do the research, I needed to do. And I am sorry for that and I’m sorry to the people that were hurt by that.”
Bonnell, an Omaha native who now lives in Los Angeles, founded the Ominiliberal Movement which directs people nationwide to get involved in local races. Their first stop was the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, in which two Democrats won historic victories. Gudgel saw that outcome and accepted Bonnell’s support in his race, which until recently included about 10 people from across the United States living in an Airbnb and canvassing for Gudgel.
All financial support from Bonnel went toward paying for his canvassers housing, food and other necessities, Gudgel said. A PayPal fundraiser shows nearly $5,000 was raised by Feb. 2, Gudgel said he wasn’t sure how much in total was spent.
What Gudgel said he wasn’t aware of is just how much of a personality Bonnell was online.
Bonnell started streaming himself playing video games in 2011. Over the years he’s accrued more than 100 million views, hundreds of thousands of subscribers and hours upon hours of streaming content. In that time he’s also developed a name for himself as a progressive who will debate and argue for his ideals, often against people in the alt-right. As a result he’s had a heavy influence in turning people away from radical conservatism toward progressive ideals, earning him national recognition in outlets such as Wired and The New York Times.
Those ideals include supporting Black Lives Matter protesters, but Bonnell drew the line this summer when people started destroying private property. After making comments about “mowing down dips—t protestors,” he was deplatformed from Twitch. Bonnell also has a past of using racial slurs in private conversations, which he defended on one stream in 2019 after another streamer, who is Black, confronted him.
After the news came to light Bonnell said he’d been misrepresented. On his subreddit he posted a rebuttal to the article, defending himself and posting screenshots insinuating the author had a bias against Gudgel. On his website’s live chat, Bonnell also said Gudgel was getting threats against his family and his job. Gudgel said there’s truth to that.
“The reality is, you know, I, I couldn’t keep food down for quite some time,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. You know I’m a political outsider. And this shocked me.”
After a few days of discussion, Gudgel and his team decided to cut all ties with Bonnell and the Omniliberal Movement. In a statement, Gudgel admitted to his mistake and asked for people to forgive him. He knows a lot of people are upset, but he hopes they read his apology as sincere. Gudgel said that racial and social equity is a top priority for him and has plans to address that quickly through increasing access to better public transportation, providing every high school graduate with $8,000 to pursue higher education and more.
“I hope that people know that that apology is sincere…I’m grateful for the support that we received from the Omniliberal Movement,” Gudgel said, “but I am sorry that I did not do a better job of vetting their founder before I accepted that help.”