Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s political future is looking increasingly bleak after an appearance alongside white supremacist Matt Shea, a former state legislator, at a Christian Nationalist rally in Spokane on Sunday, August 20th.
During “Let Us Worship”, Woodward and other Republicans gathered onstage to receive a blessing from Shea, following a thunderous sermon replete with fire and brimstone metaphors. (Joseph Peterson, a local designer who captured much of the events on video and posted them to Twitter, reports the group “asking God to ‘Sweep our city like a fire sweeps through the woods.’”)
Both fires resulted in enormous structural damage. The Gray Fire displaced an estimated 5,000 people in a county already struggling beneath the weight of a housing crisis. On Saturday morning, Mead’s air quality index (AQI) exceeded 500, marking it as a city with some of the worst air quality in the world.
As of press time, the Oregon Road Fire had burned 10,817 acres and is 83% contained. The Gray Fire, which incinerated 10,085 acres and destroyed 240 homes, is 93% contained. The fires, which also claimed several lives, were declared a state-level emergency by Governor Jay Inslee.
Woodward attempted to distance herself from Shea following the event.
“I am deeply disturbed that Matt Shea chose to politicize a gathering of thousands of citizens who joined together yesterday to pray for fire victims and first responders,” said Woodward, in one of her few public statements since the event. “I attended the event with one purpose only and that was to join with fellow citizens to begin the healing process.”
These comments were met with incredulity across the Inland Northwest, given that the event was not spontaneous, but rather long planned.
It was organized by Sean Feucht, a right wing pastor and musician who earned a reputation during the pandemic for his bombastic concerts held in protest of COVID-19 physical distancing safety measures. Feucht continues to be a prominent voice in the white Christian nationalism movement, an ideology stating that Christianity should be the foundation of America’s – if not the world’s – laws.
For readers who are unfamiliar with Matt Shea, he is a far-right, militant white supremacist with a history of political violence, and who has long advocated for a fascist theocracy. Since entering politics, Shea has peddled conspiracy theories and called for splitting off Eastern Washington into a new state called Liberty.
Shea made national headlines in 2018 when it was revealed he was behind the distribution of a manifesto titled “The Biblical Basis for War,” in which he outlined the strategy for a “Holy Army,” condemned reproductive rights and marriage equality, and called for the killing of all males who do not yield to biblical law.
Shea gained further attention in 2019 when an independent investigation confirmed his involvement in the infamous armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 2016, led by Ammon Bundy. The investigation further detailed his direct involvement in two other acts of domestic terrorism, leading to his expulsion from the House Republican caucus, despite his refusal to resign.
Shea chose not to run for reelection to the Washington State House in 2020, and has since been acting as the pastor for the Covenant Christian Church. Readers can read the Cascadia Advocate’s coverage of Shea’s actions here and here.
Among the voices demanding accountability from Woodward was former City Council President Ben Stuckart, who ran against Woodward for Mayor in 2019. The Spokesman Review quoted Stuckart as saying: “You don’t go to white Christian nationalist events, put on by Christian nationalists and not expect the Christian nationalists to be there.”
Lisa Brown, Woodward’s Democratic challenger, also expressed skepticism towards Woodward’s claims, pointing to her and Shea’s on-stage embrace.
It is also worth noting that in the abundance of prayers held that night, there were no words spoken for the first responders or victims suffering outside.
So much for joining the community in healing.
Woodward also said: “I am opposed to [Shea’s] political views as they are a threat to our democracy, and I regret my public appearance with him. I was not aware that he would be at the event last night and it only became apparent as I was walking on stage that he would be leading the prayer. I should have made better efforts to learn who would be speaking at the event.”
Yet this was no last-minute proposition.
Shea confirmed on his podcast, Patriot Radio, that Woodward accepted the invitation to Let Us Worship far, far in advance.
It would be impossible for a reasonable person to mistake a Christian nationalist rally for a prayer session for the victims of a disaster that had not yet come to pass at the time it was scheduled. What is more, given Feucht’s militant, extremist far-right ideology, it is difficult to see how Woodward could not have anticipated, at minimum, the tone and tenor of the rally when she agreed to attend.
Even if Woodward were to have somehow missed Shea’s involvement, why didn’t she leave once she saw him present? Or at any point during the event, with its anti-LGBTQ+ remarks and its extreme right-wing rhetoric?
The obvious answer: she didn’t regret going to the event until after it was publicized that she’d been there and the criticism came rolling in.
Woodward was already facing a tough general election campaign to win a second term, as evidenced by her loss to Brown in the August Top Two election.
Now her electoral prospects look even dimmer.