The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee unanimously passed a resolution Thursday urging the federal government to reinstate travel privileges for a leader of an Austrian nationalist movement who planned to marry his fiancée, an alt-right YouTube pundit, in Idaho this summer.
Martin Sellner, a leader of Generation Identity who campaigns against Islam and mass immigration, said last month that U.S. authorities had canceled his Electronic System for Travel Authorization, a waiver that allows citizens of some countries to enter the United States for brief periods without a visa.
That followed a raid in which Austrian authorities seized electronic devices belonging to Sellner and his American fiancée, Brittany Pettibone, who lives in Post Falls but was visiting Sellner at the time.
Sellner was under investigation for ties to the suspected gunman in last month’s mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people. The suspect, Brenton Tarrant, donated 1,500 euro (nearly $1,700) to Sellner last year.
Last month, Sellner told the Associated Press he had exchanged emails with Tarrant after the donation and pointed him to his English-language YouTube channel, but denied having any involvement in the attack or inspiring Tarrant with his anti-Islam ideology.
On Thursday, the Kootenai County GOP posted two videos on YouTube. One video shows Pettibone speaking at a party meeting, and the other shows party members discussing her situation. The committee passed a resolution asserting U.S. authorities revoked Sellner’s travel privileges “for political reasons” and “interfered with the wedding plans of these two young people.”
“Martin has been to the U.S. four times with no issue and never caused any kind of disturbance, so it really was politically motivated,” Pettibone told the party, adding that she and Sellner now plan to get married in Austria in July.
The videos were deleted from YouTube after The Spokesman-Review inquired about the GOP meeting Friday afternoon.
It’s unclear if Sellner could have obtained a regular visa to travel to the United States. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s press office didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.
Last year, Sellner, Pettibone and another far-right activist, Lauren Southern, were denied entry to Britain after officials deemed their presence to be “not conducive to the public good.”
Summing up the goals of Generation Identity, Pettibone told the Kootenai County GOP: “Mainly they oppose the Islamization of Europe and mass migration into Europe, but a core tenet of their movement is campaigning for political change through peaceful protest.”
She also mentioned a 2017 stunt in which she, Sellner and other activists set sail in the Mediterranean Sea to “defend Europe” against what they called an invasion of migrants from Africa. Some in the group wanted to block and disrupt rescue ships run by humanitarian organizations.
Pettibone didn’t respond to a Twitter message seeking comment Friday.
In an email, Kootenai County GOP chairman Brent Regan said the party took up the resolution to help Pettibone because she is a constituent. He said the resolution had nothing to do with her ideology. Rather, he said, the party was concerned about freedom of political speech.
Duane Rasmussen, a former vice chairman who remains active in the Kootenai County GOP, defended the resolution, contending federal authorities have no good reason to prevent Sellner from entering the United States.
“It’s not a resolution in support of his cause,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a resolution in support of him getting married.”
Asked about Pettibone’s comments about Islam, Rasmussen said: “I can’t be held accountable for any of her comments on Islam, and neither can anybody else on the committee.”
A staffer from U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher’s Coeur d’Alene office, Tim Kastning, also attended the meeting.
At one point, Kastning stood up and said: “I just wanted to let the committee know that I have reached out to (Pettibone) and given her my card, and Congressman Fulcher’s office will be doing what we can to give whatever help and assistance that we can.”
The announcement elicited a round of applause from the party.
Reached by phone Friday, Kastning said he had not discussed Sellner’s situation with Fulcher and the congressman was not involved in the matter.
A spokeswoman for Fulcher, Alexah Rogge, later said in an email: “When there are situations of duress with first district constituents, it is the natural inclination of our staff to listen and attempt to provide assistance through the appropriate federal agency. In regard to this particular matter, there is no appeals process through (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and no avenue for a congressional office to intervene.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.