Nebraska GOP posted explicit images of youth sex acts from graphic novel

"Gender Queer: a Memoir" by Maia Kobabe on Nov. 12, 2021.
"Gender Queer: a Memoir" by Maia Kobabe on Nov. 12, 2021.(Credit: Michael Gonzalez/The Texas Tribune)
Published: Aug. 20, 2022 at 11:12 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) -The new-look Nebraska Republican Party took 10 hours of online fire Friday from Democrats and Republicans for sharing explicit, comic-book-style images from its official Twitter account that depicted young people performing oral sex and another sex act.

By the time the party deleted two explicit tweets, it was after 8 p.m., and the images had been captured and shared online repeatedly, a search of Twitter responses showed. Two lawyers privately questioned whether the posts might have violated state law. Two others said it didn’t.

Nebraska law prohibits publishing, creating or providing images showing minors having sex, but that typically targets recordings or pictures, not drawings. Several Republicans said the shared images came from “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel that some Iowa and Texas parents have objected to after finding it in high school libraries.

State GOP Chairman Eric Underwood, who helped lead an organized takeover of the party in July, told the Nebraska Examiner at 8:19 p.m. Friday that neither he nor party leadership had authorized either post on the state party’s Twitter account. He said he learned of the tweet Friday afternoon. He declined to answer follow-up questions.

He said, “The person responsible for the tweet, the outgoing communication director, has been removed from the account and is no longer responsible for any NEGOP communication.”

KLIN radio host Jack Riggins had been filling that role since July. Riggins declined to comment on the statement or tweets when reached late Friday evening. He said he was out of state.

But questions about who knew what and when lingered after Omaha CBS affiliate KMTV reported that Underwood had defended one of the tweets via text message to a reporter about 3 p.m. Friday before he later disavowed the tweets.

Responding to Kleeb

The first tweet sharing the images from the GOP account responded to a Thursday post by Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb. She had poked fun at the state GOP platform saying “gambling devastates the family.” Nebraska voters approved adding casinos, she wrote.

At 10:34 a.m. Friday, the GOP account shared the explicit images and said, “Like fun haters against fellatio being taught to school age children? @janekleeb Well u are right !! We have principles and values, not “everything goes” policies. Sorry to be sane.”

The response was swift. Former state Democratic Party leader Vince Powers, a lawyer, tweeted that the “@negop has posted child pornography on Twitter. I won’t retweet it. It’s disgusting.”

The chairman of the York County GOP, Stephen Postier, tweeted that the state party’s new leaders should “do the honorable thing and resign immediately” if any of them thought the tweets and images shared were appropriate.

Kleeb, asked about the tweets and responses, said Nebraskans are tired of Republican conspiracy theories and “weird antics.” The party has “gone off the rails,” she said.

“They think lying about our public school teachers is a strategy to win elections,” she said.

One woman, a Republican and a mother who publicly objected to the Nebraska State Board of Education’s recent push for updated sex education standards, criticized the author of the graphic novel, schools that put “inappropriate material” in front of kids and the state GOP for sharing the images.

“Nobody has clean hands on this,” she said, speaking on the condition that she not be named.

Second tweet reuses images

A second tweet from the state GOP account at 3:48 p.m. Friday again included the images. It apologized “for the graphic nature of this tweet.” It said the party supports GOP values and candidates that protect children, their education and parental rights.

“The tweet showcases the hard facts of what materials and books are in Nebraska Schools, due to Democratic policies and agendas,” the post said, echoing Underwood’s text to KMTV.

Several state GOP sources said that they knew of at least one public school library in Nebraska where the party had been told the graphic novel was found and that the book was removed after a parent complained. They wouldn’t identify the school. The book is available at public libraries in Omaha and Lincoln, according to their online catalogs.

In other states, parents who objected to the graphic novel have done so based on its depictions of the author’s own exploration of being nonbinary. People who identify as nonbinary do not see themselves as exclusively male or female.

GOP leaders from around the state are gathering this weekend in Hastings to fill state party posts that were vacated in July, when many of the party’s top leaders who are aligned with Gov. Pete Ricketts resigned following the toppling of the party’s former leadership.

Democrat Deb Neary, a State Board of Education member targeted by the GOP for her role in pushing to update sex ed standards, wrote in a message that she was saddened that “people are intentionally spreading disinformation and fear- in order to win elections.”

State Board of Ed candidates

Neary said the uproar involving Friday’s tweets risks “hurting some of our more vulnerable student populations.” In Nebraska, local school boards, administrators and educators handle decisions about library books, she said.

“I am quite certain that there is no school administrator, no policy maker, no librarian, no educator, no Democrat, or no parent in NE, that is intentionally promoting the use of inappropriate materials in our schools,” Neary wrote.

“I do not know anything about that particular book that is being discussed by the NE GOP. I do know that Nebraska is one of only 2 states in the country that does not have an age appropriate and standardized health education.”

Four Republican candidates for the state Board of Ed — Kirk Penner, Elizabeth Tegtmeier, Sherry Jones and Marni Hodgen — issued a joint statement late Friday aiming at school libraries and curricula that they said have worried conservative parents for years.

“We stand with parents and will unite to protect the innocence of Nebraska’s students,” the statement said. “One of the reasons the four of us are running is because we believe that pornography and radical gender theory have no place in Nebraska schools.”

This is a blurred screen capture of the second tweet that the Nebraska Republican Party sent...
This is a blurred screen capture of the second tweet that the Nebraska Republican Party sent out using its official Twitter account. The image has been blurred here to prevent sharing sensitive content.(Nebraska Examiner)