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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kootenai County GOP embraces promoters of far-right ‘Pizzagate’ and ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theories

Brittany Pettibone, a self-described “American nationalist,” speaks to the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee about her plans to marry Martin Sellner, the leader of an Austrian white nationalist movement, during a GOP meeting on Thursday, April 25, 2019. (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)

Last week, when Brittany Pettibone stood before the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, the self-described “American nationalist” said a commitment to nonviolence separates her and her fiancé from the suspect in the March 15 massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people.

“If you’ve read the manifesto – I’m not sure, maybe some of you have – the Christchurch shooter specifically said he does not believe in campaigning for political change through peaceful means,” Pettibone, 26, told the GOP committee during a meeting in a Coeur d’Alene courthouse. “He said, ‘We can’t do that anymore. The only way we can win is through violent means.’ ”

Pettibone and her fiancé, Martin Sellner, don’t openly advocate violence. But in his manifesto, the Christchurch shooting suspect wrote that he was inspired to murder Muslims by an idea that the couple champions.

They call it “The Great Replacement” – a racist notion that immigrants are systematically squeezing white people out of existence and wrecking the cultural identity of the West. Pettibone, who lives in Post Falls, has even raised the specter of a “white genocide.”

Along with InfoWars’ Alex Jones, Pettibone also was a major promoter of the hoax known as “Pizzagate,” telling her online followers that Hillary Clinton and other high-profile Democrats were involved in satanic rituals and child sex trafficking. That idea also incited violence: In December 2016, a North Carolina man and Pizzagate believer terrified workers and customers when he fired a rifle at a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

Sellner, who co-founded the Austrian chapter of Generation Identity, is a leading figure in the far-right “identitarian” movement that has swept over Europe amid an influx of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. The Christchurch suspect donated 1,500 euros (nearly $1,700) to Sellner last year.

“If I need to summarize what the movement is about,” Sellner said in a 2017 YouTube video, “it’s basically a pan-European youth movement with a goal to preserve and secure a future for ethno-cultural identity in Europe.”

Though Pettibone and Sellner routinely deny allegations of racism and xenophobia, their rhetoric bears hallmarks of earlier racist movements. In the 1980s, a founder of The Order, a terrorist group that splintered from the Aryan Nations, coined the infamous “14 words” slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

In North Idaho, some learned Sellner’s name last week when the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee – a group that includes the county’s elected prosecutor and the chairwoman of the Idaho state GOP – passed a resolution urging the federal government to allow him into the United States. For reasons that remain unclear, authorities had revoked a visa waiver that would have allowed Sellner, an Austrian, to marry Pettibone in Idaho this summer.

The GOP resolution asserted the government had revoked Sellner’s travel privileges “for political reasons” and demanded that those privileges be reinstated “immediately.”

In an email Tuesday, Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said: “In this situation, we did not know what information was considered in denying the travel authorization, though there were assertions that the decision-making was flawed. Requesting a review of that decision and requesting due process in the matter seemed reasonable.”

He continued: “I believe in free speech and due process. I am committed to the protection of our citizens, to the elimination of discrimination, and to supporting human rights. My office’s history of prosecuting hate crimes reflects my commitment to those beliefs.”

Kootenai County GOP chairman Brent Regan also sent a statement that condemned bigotry and quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The statement said some party members abstained from the vote, which was otherwise unanimous, but did not identify those members.

Pettibone declined to comment when reached by email Tuesday. Jennifer Locke, who is Kootenai County’s chief deputy clerk and chairwoman of the Idaho Republican Party, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

Shawn Keenan, who leads the Kootenai County Democrats Club, is among those criticizing the local GOP.

“Do we stand for this ‘replacement’ fearmongering or are we an inclusive community? We are heading right back into the Aryan way of thinking and the (Kootenai County Republican Central Committee) is trying to make it mainstream,” Keenan said in an email. “We cannot allow this.”

He noted that his aunt and cousin, Victoria and Jason Keenan, were chased, assaulted and shot at near the former Aryan Nations compound in 1998, resulting in the lawsuit that ultimately sent the white supremacist group into bankruptcy.

“My family fought incredibly hard to rid the Aryans from North Idaho during the infamous trial back in 2000,” Keenan said. “I am not going to sit idly by and watch it creep back in.”

Some local Republicans who don’t belong to the Central Committee also criticized last week’s vote. Kootenai County Commissioner Chris Fillios, who has been at odds with the committee over a building permit policy, said he doubted the group could have known why federal authorities revoked Sellner’s visa waiver.

“My concern is that white nationalism is rearing its ugly head again in this country,” Fillios said. “If that’s why they’re refusing entry to Mr. Sellner, I’m not sure I have a problem with that.”