UPDATE: After publication of this article, Laurence Berg told the La Crosse Tribune that he would ask for a refund on his donations to Nehlen. However, FEC records as of Nov. 26, 2018 do not show evidence of a refund.
Breitbart News may have rejected him. Twitter may have banned him from its services. But multiple public employees appear to have stuck with Paul Nehlen, an openly anti-Semitic white supremacist running on the Republican ticket in Wisconsin to replace House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Sludge has found that one State Department employee, a Wisconsin county supervisor and two public university professors have all donated to Nehlen’s current campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. None of these donations were returned.
Nehlen has at times denied being a white supremacist and at others dodged the question, but his public actions and comments indicate, at the very least, a strong sympathy for white supremacist ideas. Nehlen says he is a “pro-White” candidate and was banned from Twitter because of his racist posts. Breitbart News, which former executive chairman Steve Bannon has called “the platform for the alt-right,” said Nehlen went off the “deep end” and allegedly cut ties with the candidate. Nehlen did not respond to a request for comment.
One of Nehlen’s many anti-Semitic tweets reads: “Poop, incest, and pedophilia. Why are those common themes repeated so often with Jews?”
On Twitter, Nehlen posted a list of his alleged critics (which included this author and many other journalists), claiming most were Jewish, and clearly encouraging his sizeable alt-right and neo-Nazi following to harass those people. (Some people he called Jewish were not Jewish.)
After tweeting the list, Nehlen then tweeted out a link to a page on his website that disclosed alleged critics’ phone numbers and email addresses. Nehlen was banned from Twitter in February after he sent a racist tweet attacking Meghan Markle, who is now married to Prince Harry.
On January 15, after Breitbart had denounced him for racist and anti-Semitic statements, State Department foreign affairs officer Matthew Q. Gebert donated $200 to Nehlen’s campaign. That brought his total donations to the white supremacist’s campaign to $225.
Gebert’s only other donations so far for the 2017-18 election cycle were two $500 contributions to Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee to represent Virginia in the Senate who is outspoken about preserving public Confederate flags and monuments. In a Facebook Live video taken during his 2017 campaign for Virginia governor, Stewart stood in front of a Confederate flag and declared, “I’m proud to be here with this flag.”
A State Department spokesperson told Sludge: “Matthew Q. Gebert is employed by the Department of State as a foreign affairs officer assigned to the Bureau of Energy Resources in Washington, D.C. Guidelines regarding political activity of State Department employees can be found in the Foreign Affairs manual at 11 FAM 614. The Department of State is committed to providing a workplace that is free from discriminatory harassment.”
Under the Hatch Act, government employees are forbidden from “fundraising for a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group” at any time. But individual political donations do not qualify as “fundraising.”
Gebert is not the only public official to donate to the anti-Semitic candidate. Laurence Berg, a pathologist and elected member of the LaCrosse County, Wisconsin Board of Supervisors, made a series of donations to Nehlen from mid-2017 to February, totaling $1,500. His most recent donation came after Nehlen was banned from Twitter. Emails and phone calls to Berg and to the County Board Chair were not returned.
Professors Donate to Nehlen
Douglas Kiester, an orthopaedic surgeon and professor at the public University of California at Irvine, donated a total of $1,150 to Nehlen between mid-2017 and late March 2018, after Twitter banned Nehlen. He also gave $250 to the campaign of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is known for creating brutal conditions at his jails, racial profiling, and then being convicted for criminal contempt after defying court orders to curb that profiling.
Kiester responded to a list of questions about why he donated to Nehlen and Arpaio, whether he was aware of Nehlen’s white supremacist reputation, and how he might respond to potential concerns among his colleagues and students, with one sentence: “Are you aware that this is slander and therefore legally liable.” Sludge asked Keister to explain what about its inquiry was false information, but the professor did not reply.
John Murray, public information officer at UC-Irvine Medical Center, told Sludge, “Staff and faculty have the freedom to make personal political donations. These actions do not represent the university.”
Lawrence Fogelberg, a finance professor in the business school of Troy University, a public university in Alabama, made a $250 donation to Nehlen in June 2017. The Sorrell College of Business at Troy houses a free-market center that was founded with millions of dollars donated by the Charles Koch Foundation. That foundation, which gives tens of millions of dollars to hundreds of mostly free-market university programs around the country each year, funds several neo-Confederate professors. Fogelberg and the dean of the College of Business did not return requests for comment.
“The rules allow public employees to give as they so choose, as anybody can, and they have a right to be privately involved in politics,” Heidi Beirich, an expert on white supremacist extremism and director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Sludge. “As a general matter, when people give money to campaigns of people with some of these extremist ideas, it helps further that discourse at the national level and possibly could change policy at some point. We do have concerns with extremist ideas in the mainstream.”
More white supremacists are running for office on the Republican ticket. Holocaust denier Arthur J. Jones, whom the Illinois Republican Party denounced and called a Nazi, won the GOP primary in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. Jones hasn’t filed any campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.
White nationalist Patrick Little, who has praised Hitler, denied the Holocaust and called for an America “free from Jews,” was a GOP candidate in California this year, earning 1.2 percent of the primary vote. His campaign finance filings do not include employer information for most donors, though he did receive nearly $11,000 in campaign donations.