One of the most notable immediate outcomes of this week’s candidate filing in Washington state was the absence of militant Matt Shea of Spokane Valley, who has occupied a position in the Washington State Legislature for over a decade.
Before his first election, Shea was a co-founder and director of the Washington Family Foundation, a zealous right wing advocacy group that merged with the Family Policy Institute of Washington, which is an affiliate Focus on the Family, the Family Research Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund, all focused on policy and religious liberty as perceived by radical right wing Christians.
Starting in 2009, Representative Shea became a periodic guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars, and further cultivated his relationships with the radical right through as many other outlets as possible.
As a result of these relationships, he has both developed a close relationship with and is allegedly a member of both the Oath Keepers and Liberty for All III%.
In November of 2011, he pulled a firearm from a glove compartment during a confrontation with another motorist that was reported by the police later as a road rage incident. Shea was eventually charged with possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle without a concealed weapon permit, which he had let expire.
He paid a fine and the charge was eventually dropped in return for having committed no further criminal violations over the course of a year.
Shea has previously been accused of destructive, unacceptable behavior – during divorce proceedings from his first wife, which was granted in January of 2008, she requested multiple restraining orders because of alleged problems with controlling his temper, and further alleged that he had been relieved of his weapon at one point while serving in the military in Iraq.
In 2015, at a demonstration for gun rights on the steps of the Capitol, Shea declared that Initiative 594, which required background checks on private purchases of firearms, and which had been passed overwhelmingly by the voters the previous November, was unconstitutional. He introduced legislation which would invalidate or significantly weaken it, but each of his attempts failed.
In April of that same year, Matt Shea tried to twist to his advantage the flying of the flag of the People’s Republic of China at the Capitol as a diplomatic courtesy when Chinese ambassador Cui Tianaka paid a courtesy call on Governor Jay Inslee.
In August of that same year, at a demonstration against Planned Parenthood in North Spokane, he said “There is no difference between Planned Parenthood, and what Dr. Josef Mengele did in Germany in the 1940s.”
To round out the year, he participated in a demonstration against a recognition by the Spokane City Council of local Muslim contributions to the community, linking CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) to sharia law and its incompatibility with the Constitution of the United States.
2016 began with the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Shea’s intervention and involvement in it, not the least of which, later in the year, was presenting participant in the occupation and controversial local guns rights activist Anthony Bosworth with an annual Patriot of the Year award. (Shea was later cleared of a resulting ethics complaint for his intervention in the occupation.)
It continued with accusations by Shea, which resulted in a lawsuit in 2017 that was eventually settled quietly in 2019, that the firearm of a deputy sheriff within the office of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich had links to Roy Murray, someone who had recently committed a triple homicide.
It closed with Shea, McCaslin and Taylor re-initiating a long called for effort to split Washington state in two and create the new state of Liberty. (The idea of a white nationalist state made up of various combinations of portions of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and even California has a long history and very deep roots.)
On July 11th, 2018, James Allsup, a former leader of the College Republicans at Washington State University, a participant in the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017, and someone affiliated with the white supremacist group Identity Evropa, gave a talk at a meeting of Northwest Grassroots, a conservative group closely affiliated with Shea, which is at odds with more establishment Republicans in the greater Spokane area.
The event eventually led to the resignation of Spokane County Republican Chair Cecily Wright, who initially defended Allsup, and two other members of their central committee, Vitaliy Makismov and Abigail Osborne.
In October of 2018, Rolling Stone published an article regarding Matt Shea, providing him with national exposure.
Also in late October 2018, Shea was found to have distributed a manifesto titled The Biblical Basis for War, which he initially declared was an outline for a sermon regarding war during the period of the Old Testament in the Bible.
It had been received by an individual in August and was eventually handed over to the FBI by Sheriff Knezovich, who made his opinions clear. “The document Mr. Shea wrote is not a Sunday school project or an academic study… It is a ‘how to’ manual consistent with the ideology and operating philosophy of the Christian Identity/Aryan Nations movement and the Redoubt movement of the 1990s.”
(A second document, “Restoration,” focusing on how to create a new society after a catastrophic event, was made known in 2019 – Shea has not responded to requests to affirm or deny the document as his.)
On November 1st, 2018, the FBI opened an investigation regarding the first manifesto. On November 26th, 2018, Shea was removed from his position as Republican House Caucus Chair.
In April of 2019, an article in The Guardian declared that Shea had taken part in a private internet chat in 2017, in response to fears of an “Antifa revolt” that never happened, with three known members of the local radical right, discussing surveillance, psychological operations (“psyops”) and violent attacks on local individuals they considered dangerous.
One of the participants in the chat was Anthony Bosworth. Shea did not dissuade the other participants from the direction in which their conversation went, and at one point offered to perform background checks on request.
On May 3rd, 2019, fifty-six Democrats signed a letter, sent to House Republican leader J. T. Wilcox, referencing the points made in the April 2019 Guardian article. They demanded that Representative Shea be reprimanded publicly, removed from his position as ranking minority member of the House Committee on Environment & Energy, and declared that the Democratic Speaker of the House would initiate an independent House investigation into the matter.
Less than a week later, The Guardian highlighted Shea’s appearance on the Prepper Recon podcast in 2018. Prepper Recon is hosted by Mark Goodwin, who authored the Economic Collapse Chronicles, a work of conservative Christian post-apocolypic fiction which starts with “President Al Mohammed’s” America being denied by the International Monetary Fund from future borrowing of funds.
Shea promoted the concept of the American Redoubt, repeated his expectation of a second civil war, and referenced well known capitalist and right wing bogeyman George Soros as a funder of organizations he considers un-American.
In July of 2019, Shea was the subject of an episode of Bundyville, Revisited, the second season of the Bundyville collaboration between Oregon Public Broadcasting and Longreads, which used the occupation and standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns, Oregon in 2016 as a jumping off point to discuss the political infrastructure of the radical right in the “Dry West,” which includes eastern Washington.
The episode referenced Shea speaking at the Marble Community Fellowship, a Dominionist “Christian covenant community” led by pastor Brian Byrd.
Dominionism is a philosophy that believes that Christians should “have dominion” over all American political and cultural institutions.
(What is often left unsaid is that these Christians should have a very conservative, literal interpretation of the Bible; that the Ten Commandments should be the basis of American law. What is also often left unsaid is that Dominionism is increasingly blended with Christian Identity and other forms of racism and white nationalism.)
In June of 2019, Shea hosted disgraced right wing initiative promoter turned gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman on his right wing radio show. During the appearance, Eyman promoted an initiative to repeal modest revenue reforms that had just been approved by the state Legislature, lavished praise on Shea, and spoke glowingly of Shea’s activities, saying to Shea: “You’re awesome.”
On July 29, 2019, the Chief Clerk of the House announced that it hired hired an outside firm, The Rampart Group, led by a former member of the FBI, Kathy Leodler, to “determine whether Representative Shea was engaged in, planned or promoted political violence against groups or individuals,” determine the extent to which Representative Shea was involved if so engaged, and assess the level of threat of such groups or individuals.
In August of 2019, The Guardian revealed that emails from July of 2016 revealed that Shea, for a group called Team Rugged, led by Patrick Caughran, offered visibility through his Facebook page and facilitated communication between them and Jack Robertson, also known as “John Jacob Schmidt.”
Robertson hosts the white nationalist podcast Radio Free Redoubt, which advocates for listeners to move to the “American Redoubt” in eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana, and, with Shea, campaigns for eastern Washington to secede and form its own state, Liberty.
In one of the emails, Gaughran told Shea that Team Rugged existed “to provide patriotic and biblical training on war for young men.”
Caughran also noted that the “biblical teaching” would come at least in part from pastor John Weaver, once a leading member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group that opposes interracial marriage and has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.”
Weaver is also a firearms instructor that has trained members of The League of the South in firearms training; the group participated in the Charlottesville white supremacist rally. One of the executors (and an instructor) of Team Rugged is pastor Brian Byrd of the Marble Community Fellowship.
Also in August, Matt Shea was specifically asked not to attend a meeting of the Spokane Complete Count Committee, an alliance of local groups determined to improve the count of underrepresented groups for the 2020 Census, due to many individuals’ discomfort with him and his close relationships with groups antithetical to what they stand for. (Shea had not planned to attend.)
On August 23rd, 2019, Representative Shea’s legislative assistant, Rene’ Holaday, was fired by the Chief Clerk’s Office of the state legislature for participating in a May event on behalf of promoting the state of Liberty.
At it, she claimed that increasing numbers of Republican legislators were supporting the idea as a result of recent successful legislation by Democrats, stating, “They actually even said — and it wasn’t even Shea that said this, they said this on their own — ‘It’s either going to be bloodshed or Liberty State.’ Take that to heart.”
On October 10th, 2019, a video made public by the John Birch Society’s media outlet, the New American, made clear his preference for Dominionism and his hatred of both Islam and of Muslims.
On December 19th, 2019, the results of the investigation by the Rampart Group were released. The report concluded that:
Representative Shea, as a leader in the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States (US) Government in three states outside the State of Washington over a three year period to include 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Shea, with members of COWS and Ammon Bundy, were found to have planned and organized the 2016 Mahleur occupation and standoff.
Perhaps the most damning statement in the report was:
Representative Shea is an attorney and member of the Bar of the State of Washington and presumably has knowledge of and access to avenues to peacefully redress grievances through the courts but chose to lead his followers to stand in physical confrontation at risk of bloodshed and loss of life.
The next day, House Republican leaders expelled Representative Shea from their caucus. Minority Leader J. T. Wilcox declared: “His role as a House Republican is over.” Shea responded on Facebook, stating “Like we are seeing with our President this is a sham investigation meant to silence those of us who stand up against attempts to disarm and destroy our great country. I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign. Stand strong, fellow Patriots.”
At the end of 2019, Shea was laid off from the law firm M. Casey Law, where he had worked for seven years. Shea started an individual practice.
In February of 2020, House Democrats circulated a letter calling for the expulsion of Shea from the state Legislature because of his engagement in the planning and promoting of political violence. Republicans refused to endorse the idea, which would have required at least nine of them to join forces with Democrats.
The pandemic has seemingly made Shea even more paranoid and bitter.
Shea has publicly worried that Governor Inslee would use the National Guard to enforce his orders and enact martial law.
He’s echoed comments by others that the COVID-19 virus was created in a Chinese “biological warfare program,” and has fretted that people would be forcibly inoculated when and if a vaccine becomes available.
He also hasn’t been happy with the creation of the Western States Pact and its mid-Atlantic equivalent, considering them first steps toward secession from the United States and an attempt to undermine Donald Trump.
Shea has spoken at demonstrations in Olympia on the Capitol Campus against Governor Inslee’s stay home, stay healthy orders, with his favorite phrase being “Freedom is the cure,” with which he’s led in chants.
He’s publicly supported the comments of Jason Kinley, the newest member of the Spokane Regional District’s Board of Health, who has said, among other things, that there is “no widely accepted treatment” for any existing virus (which ignores medications and targeted antiviral treatments that have successfully countered other viruses), that hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t be dismissed as a treatment for COVID-19 sufferers, and that high dosages of Vitamin C should also be considered as a treatment.
Shea seems obsessed with trailers as indicators of future concentration camps, as can be seen on his Facebook page – a photo of an isolation camp in Goldendale for COVID-19 sufferers was responded to with “Voluntary until they are not.”
And then there is the olive oil incident.
On March 6th, a group from Seattle’s Satanic Temple of Washington walked through and around the Capitol building, performing what they called an “invocation.” They had requested and received a permit to do so.
They were asked to change their route slightly, to minimize potential damage to the Capitol building and grounds. They did so.
Shea’s response was a small gathering of of his supporters later in the day, without requesting a permit to do so beforehand. They prayed out loud, sang, and a few of the group blew from shofars, made from ram’s horns.
They then walked roughly along the same path as the first group, through and out of the Capitol building, pouring olive oil on the sandstone blocks that form the walkway, the marble Capitol steps and the sidewalk. This turned out to have been a second attempt, as someone from the Washington state Department of Enterprise Services (DES) took away Shea’s first bottle of olive oil.
DES afterward charged Shea $4,761 for the cost of cleaning up the resulting mess and minimizing damage most especially to the porous sandstone.
Olive oil traditionally has a relationship in the Bible to the anointing of priests via the book of Exodus. In the Catholic and within specific Protestant denominations, specifically blessed oils can be used to consecrate an altar or dedicate a church.
Given that both Shea and his supporters at this event were all likely Dominionists, and thus desire a theocratic government and society over which they would rule, they most likely believed that their presence as “true” Christians, their prayers and calls to God with their shofars, was enough to bless the olive oil they used.
Shea hasn’t yet commented on why he declined to run for another term, and will likely discuss it only on terms he finds to his advantage.
He has little love for the Spokane Statesman-Review or the Inlander, who have brought unwelcome attention to his destructive activities.
He has his own podcast, Patriot Radio, as part of the American Christian Network, from which he’ll craft whatever message he prefers without pesky questions.
There are rumors that he might support former Libertarian (and now presently Republican) Bob Chase in his race to unseat Cathy McMorris Rogers, as Chase has been vocal of his support for Shea since his expulsion, and Shea had supported Chase in a run for Spokane County Commissioner, which had failed.
Regardless, Shea will still have his network of rabid militant followers. He could use his solo legal practice to file frivolous lawsuits against people and entities he does not like. Or he could use his notoriety to become a more prominent media personality, like Alex Jones or Fox’s Laura Ingraham.
He may be leaving office, but he will remain a menace that needs to be countered.