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Itasca DFL cites 'safety' in canceling Ellison event

DFL candidate for attorney general Keith Ellison speaks at a news conference in August. An Itasca County campaign event for Ellison was moved this week after an alt-right activist on Twitter encouraged followers to protest the event. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)

The Itasca County DFL based in Grand Rapids canceled a Keith Ellison campaign meet-and-greet this week amid safety concerns, the party told the News Tribune on Wednesday. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor party unit said Twitter appeals by an alt-right activist to protest the scheduled Tuesday event forced them to scrub the event.

"It became clear, after a review of past actions by the author of the tweet, that having similar disruptions would be a safety hazard for other residents, businesses, traffic and our volunteers," said the Itasca DFL in a one-page statement.

A source with the Itasca DFL later confirmed it was worried about tweets from Laura Loomer, who targeted the embattled Ellison in several recent tweets.

Ellison has come under fire since August for allegations of physical abuse made by a former live-in girlfriend, Karen Monahan. Ellison was elected to Congress in 2006, and is surrendering his 5th District seat, representing Minneapolis, in his race to become attorney general for the state of Minnesota. He also serves as co-chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Ellison cleared the August primary election in the immediate aftermath of the allegations. But recent developments, both in his case and politically, have placed the scandal under a national microscope.

The allegations against Ellison have muddied the waters for some Democrats as they've gone on the attack against President Donald Trump's Supreme County nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Critics say Dems are giving Ellison a pass at a time when they're calling on a nation to believe allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.

Most recently, the Minnesota DFL, after saying its own inquiry couldn't substantiate the allegations against Ellison, has asked for a police investigation into the Monahan claims. Monahan says she has cellphone video of Ellison dragging her off a bed, but so far has not shared it.

The event to meet Ellison was scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at DFL headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Itasca DFL worried about a counter-demonstration coming to the location of the DFL offices at 809 NE Fourth St. The Itasca DFL said it consulted with the Grand Rapids Police Department and decided going forward with the event posed too much of a risk.

"Our local Itasca DFL office is located at the bottom floor of an apartment building and surrounded by other businesses and nonprofit organizations," the Itasca DFL said, adding that the original event was designed for supporters and "not arranged as a public forum."

The Itasca DFL said the Ellison campaign rearranged to hold a different event, at a private residence within the city.

Ellison's campaign told the News Tribune that Loomer's attempt to "disrupt a planned meet-and-greet" was ultimately unsuccessful.

"While these national alt-right instigators have attempted to district and divide Minnesotans on the basis of race, gender and religion, Congressman Ellison had a great discussion with Itasca County residents about the issues important to Minnesotans: affordable health care, a fair economy, and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, income or zip code," the Ellison campaign said in a statement.

Loomer's tweets calling for a protest were first noticed Monday, and were capped by somewhat of a victory tweet on Tuesday. It read: "Yesterday I told domestic violence survivors & Minnesota voters they should show up & attend, since the flyer said 'everyone matters'. We matter too, Keith. He is so scared of me."

The Itasca DFL said it continues to stand by Ellison, who is running against Republican Doug Wardlow and Grassroots candidate Noah Johnson.

"According to Minnesota state DFL bylaws local organizing units work for and support all DFL endorsed candidates, this includes Congressman Ellison," the Itasca DFL said.

Wardlow has called his opponent "unfit."

"The credible and substantiated domestic violence claims against Keith Ellison demonstrate that he is unfit to be Minnesota's Attorney General," Wardlow said a few days ago. It's been a distressing week for the Itasca DFL, which also reported a rash of political sign thefts to authorities over the weekend.

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