A comment from an editor at The Columbia Gorge News (CGN) about a reader letter has stirred a backlash in Klickitat County and a vehement response from the Klickitat County Republican Party (KCRP).

In its Feb. 17 issue, the CGN published a letter from reader Kirsten Dennis which it titled “Spare me, GOP.” In it, Dennis wrote, “Spare me the performative outrage from Republicans claiming that Democrats ‘divisively’ rebuffed their efforts to ‘unify.’ Apparently, the truth hurts and just like the national Republican Party, the local Klickitat GOP would rather sling mud at Democrats instead of face the truth about what their party has become.

“Democrats will be more than happy to find common ground when Republicans stop spreading lies about non-existent election fraud, stop making excuses for violent, cop killing insurrections that attacked our Capitol (and the powerful people who incited them), stop willfully ignoring public health guidelines and hosting in person, mask-less gatherings, and stop promoting the formation of an armed, anti-government organization in Klickitat County.

“Until that happens, Democrats will continue to shine the light on the current Republican party’s anti-science, anti-truth, anti-democracy and anti-governing ideology.”

(The Sentinel ran the same letter in its Feb.10 edition but edited out the comment about “promoting the formation of an armed, anti-government organization.”)

In claiming the KCRP promotes forming such an organization, Dennis stops short of saying it supports violent activity. But a comment after the letter from CGN editor Kirby Neumannrea apparently moved the matter from speculation to direct accusation. He wrote:

“Dennis refers to a recent Klickitat GOP Facebook page promotion of meetings of the anti-government People’s Rights movement, an organization that since April has hosted and participated in armed protests, disruptions to public proceedings, and criminal behavior (Southern Poverty Law Center/HateWatch).” Neumannrea was citing the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as his source for the claim about People’s Rights.

In saying People’s Rights was engaged in criminal behavior—and linking the KCRP to People’s Rights—Neumannrea was stating that the KCRP itself supported criminal behavior, according to many in the county.

The KCRP does promote People’s Rights on its Facebook page, along with meetings on “Constitutional Studies” by KrisAnne Hall. (Hall has no direct affiliation with People’s Rights.) And the SPLC does classify People’s Rights as a hate group whose members have engaged in violent, criminal activity. But even if the SPLC’s characterization of the organization were accurate, many—including the KCRP itself—consider the presumptive lumping of the county party with the cause and activities of People’s Rights to be a seriously questionable, unprovable—and potentially actionable—stretch.

The KCRP has approached the CGN with a request to participate in a facilitated discussion, at the CGN’s expense, with a designated resolution center.

Neumannrea was asked for comment and forwarded the request to CGN publisher Chelsea Marr. Marr responded that the CGN was working on its own story on the matter. At press time there was no indication of whether or not the CGN would accept the KCRP’s request for a facilitated discussion.