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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

'They're trying to label us all domestic terrorists.' Rep. Matt Shea addresses gun rights rally.

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Gun rights supporters rally on the steps of the Washington state Capitol on Friday. Among the speakers was Republican state Rep. Matt Shea who participated in an act of domestic terrorism, according to a recent House investigation.

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican, has been accused of participating in an act of domestic terrorism prompting top elected officials to call on him to resign. But Friday, Shea found strong support at a gun rights rally at the state Capitol. 

Dressed in a suit and tie, Shea arrived at the rally accompanied by earpiece-wearing security. He was quickly confronted by an unidentified man who demanded to know if Shea is going to resign. Shea supporters stepped in to block the man and his camera.

"You need to go," the man was told.

“You cannot touch me, that’s assault,” Shea responded. 

Minutes later, Shea took the mic and addressed the hundreds of gun rights supporters standing in the cold and sleet on the north steps of the Capitol. The group included members of the far-right Proud Boys and Washington Three Percenters. Many in attendance openly carried pistols and military-style rifles.

“We will never, ever, ever give up, we will never back down defending our right to bear arms," Shea said to applause. 

As Shea spoke, some in the crowd held signs that said “WE STAND WITH MATT SHEA.”

A recent House investigation concluded that Shea is a leader in the Patriot Movement who helped plan an act of domestic terrorism -- namely the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Shea calls the report's conclusions an “absurdity.”

“The fact is they’re trying to label us all domestic terrorists, they’re trying to use those labels and they use red-flag laws to silence opposition," Shea said. 

Red-flag laws allow courts to confiscate weapons from people deemed an imminent threat. Washington’s law was recently used to seize the guns of a man authorities say is leader of the Atomwaffen Division--a neo-Nazi group.

In his speech, Shea sought to shift the focus to far-left groups like Antifa and the Socialist Rifle Association.

"The real enemies of this country aren’t being investigated," Shea said. "The real enemies of this country want to destroy the Constitution, they want to destroy everything we believe in.”

House Republicans have suspended Shea from their caucus and majority Democrats may try to expel him from the chamber, although that would take a two-thirds vote.

Shea is running for re-election this year and says he’s never had more support. 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."