An Austrian far-right leader with ties to American fascists sent a coffee invitation to a man now accused of murdering 50 Muslims in a Christchurch, New Zealand mosque.
Martin Sellner, the leader of the Austrian Identitarian Movement, received an approximately $1,700 donation from Brenton Tarrant in early 2018. Sellner and his movement push racist conspiracy theories, including one that Tarrant used as the title of his manifesto after he allegedly murdered 50 worshippers in March. After the financial ties were revealed, Sellner tried to distance himself from Tarrant. But Austrian and German news outlets reported this week that Sellner had exchanged emails with Tarrant until at least July 2018, and that both men invited each other to their respective countries.
The communications appear to have started after Tarrant made his donation, which was unusually large. Most donations to Sellner and his group “were in the area of two to three figures,” an Austrian official previously said of other donations. Tarrant’s four-figure donation prompted Sellner to write a thank-you note, which sparked a conversation.
If Tarrant was ever in Austria, they should meet for coffee or beer, Sellner wrote Tarrant in July according to emails first reported by Austrian broadcaster ORF. Tarrant returned the offer, writing that people in Australia or New Zealand would be happy to host Sellner.
On Twitter, Sellner confirmed the emails’ authenticity. “I always said that we had an email exchange,” Sellner wrote, “and that I would have met him if he asked me to. Why not? I am not all-knowing.”
Tarrant visited Austria at some point, investigators in that country confirmed in March, although they did not clarify when he visited. Sellner maintains he never met with Tarrant. He initially implied he’d never contacted Tarrant.
“I’m not a member of a terrorist organization,” Sellner said in a video immediately after Austrian investigators revealed Tarrant’s donation. “I have nothing to do with this man, other than that I passively received a donation from him.”
He later told The New York Times he’d emailed with Tarrant, but did not disclose the extent of the conversation. “He gave me a generous donation and I thanked him, that’s all,” Sellner said.
ORF also reported that Sellner deleted the emails a few hours before a raid on his house. The revelation prompted a leader of Austria’s Social Democrat party to question whether Sellner received a tip-off about the raid.
“It is difficult for me to believe that this was a coincidence," the party’s Federal Managing Director Thomas Drozda said in a press release, citing close ties between Sellner’s brand of extremists and Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.
Sellner still had screenshots of the emails when investigators took his electronics. On Twitter, he denied getting a tip-off.
Sellner is currently attempting to move to the U.S. to marry another far-right YouTuber. After his financial ties to Tarrant were revealed, U.S. authorities cancelled his travel waiver, which allowed him into the country without a visa. A Republican Party committee in Sellner’s partner’s home county of Kootenai, Idaho is currently asking the federal government to renew Sellner’s waiver.
Prior to his involvement with Tarrant, Sellner was involved in Austria’s neo-Nazi scene. He and one of his recent groups rented a ship to harass migrant and aid boats on the Mediterranean Sea in 2017. He was previously indicted and acquitted of incitement to hatred, and barred from entering the U.K.
Tarrant appears to have admired Sellner. When the Austrian thanked him for his donation, Tarrant reportedly replied that the donation was small compared to Sellner’s work.