WA state Representative accused of 'domestic terrorism' should resign says House GOP leader

Dec 19, 2019

The top Republican in the Washington House of Representatives is calling on state Rep. Matt Shea to step down following the release of an explosive independent investigation that alleges Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican, is a “prominent leader” of the Patriot Movement who engaged in “irresponsible and possibly illegal activities” and played a role in three armed conflicts.

“Rep. Matt Shea has been suspended from any role in the House Republican Caucus,” tweeted Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the House Republican leader, Thursday afternoon in response to the report's findings. “He should resign.” Wilcox later issued a formal statement.

The armed conflicts that Shea is accused of participating in include the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon in 2016, which the report concluded Shea helped plan in an “act of domestic terrorism against the United States.”

“Although this investigation found no evidence that Representative Shea presents an imminent direct threat to any individual or group, considerable evidence was discovered indicating Representative Shea has since 2014, presented a significant threat of political violence against employees of the Federal Government and state and local law enforcement officers, carried out through intermediaries sympathetic to the Patriot Movement,” the report said.

The 108-page report was commissioned in late July by the Washington House following media reports about Shea’s involvement with far-right and militia groups.

The investigation was conducted by the Rampart Group, a Silverdale, Washington firm led by former FBI agent Kathy Loedler. Her team interviewed 34 individuals, including former associates of Shea’s, as well as political opponents. The names of the witnesses were not included and some participated “at great risk to themselves,” the report said.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Shea engaged in intimidation tactics against a political opponent in the 2012 election.
  • Offered to conduct background checks on political opponents.
  • Condoned intimidation of political activists, government officials and Muslims.
  • Engaged in “counterintelligence gathering” in opposition to law enforcement efforts.

Shea did not agree to be interviewed as part of the investigation. Early Thursday, he issued a statement prior to the release of the report that said he had not seen the investigation. But Shea called his communications lawful and said, “I will not back down. I will continue to fight.”

“Due process is the right of every citizen, and should be afforded to all members of the House regardless of their views or party affiliation,” Shea said.

Presuming he doesn't resign, Shea could face a vote of censure or even expulsion when the 2020 Legislature convenes on January 13. Expulsion would require a two-thirds votes of the House.

“In its 130-year history, I am unaware of House members ever having received such a comprehensive and disturbing investigatory report about another member,” said incoming Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat, in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Jinkins added that the House investigative report had been forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI, but that no decision had been made on what action the House might take against Shea in January. The FBI confirmed to the public radio Northwest News Network that it had been forwarded the report. 

Besides the Malheur standoff, the two other armed incidents explored in detail in the report were:

  • The 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, during which members of the Bundy family and their supporters faced off against the Bureau of Land Management over unpaid grazing fees.
  • A 2015 gathering in Priest River, Idaho where Shea joined a group that gathered to block the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from seizing firearms belonging to an elderly veteran who had suffered a stroke.

In Nevada, the report found, “Shea’s actions… reveal evidence of his planning and promoting political violence against employees of the US Government and law enforcement officers.”

In Idaho, the report said, Shea engaged in planning an operation that he “understood could lead to violence and could develop into a protracted engagement with the Federal government.”

In the end, according to KHQ TV’s reporting at the time, the VA cancelled its plans to inspect the veteran’s home.

During the four-month investigation into Shea, the investigators reviewed and analyzed more than 120,000 electronic communications. In doing so, they concluded that Shea capitalized on political power, fear, radicalization, intimidation and covert communications to advance a number of causes. Those causes included gun rights, opposition to federal control of lands and defense of the U.S. constitution.

Shea is serving his sixth term in the Legislature representing a district that borders Idaho. Until Thursday when he was stripped of his standing in the House Republican Caucus, Shea was the ranking member of the House Environment and Energy Committee. He also served on the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee and the Transportation Committee.

According to his official biography, Shea’s family operated one of the first stagecoaches in Washington. He’s a graduate of Gonzaga law school and served two combat tours in the U.S. Army where he received the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman’s Badge, among other awards. 

A self-described Constitutional conservative, Shea has backed legislation to split Washington into two and create a 51st state of “Liberty.”

He also helped to develop the Republican “Freedom Agenda” which prioritizes issues like property rights, gun rights and opposition to abortion. Even so, he’s at times found common cause with civil libertarians over issues like privacy and concerns about an emerging “surveillance state.”

Over the course of his legislative career, Shea has also supported libertarian-minded measures -- consistent with his focus on self-sufficiency and survivalism -- like legalizing hemp production and allowing people to sell canned foods at farmers markets that are made in home kitchens, instead of industrial kitchens.

During the 2019 Legislative session, Shea was a vocal opponent of I-1000, a measure to restore affirmative action in Washington. As part of his efforts, Shea played the role of TV host and conducted an on-camera interview at the Capitol with one of the leaders of the opposition movement. 

First elected in 2008, Shea rose through the ranks to hold leadership roles in the House Republican Caucus. He served as assistant floor leader for seven years before being elevated in 2017 to caucus chair, the number three leadership position. In that role, Shea presided over caucus meetings and helped set the agenda and priorities of the caucus.

However, Shea was replaced as caucus chair in November of last year following a series of events that drew fresh attention and controversy to him.

In August 2018, he appeared at a gun rally in Spokane where he described the media as “dirty, godless, hateful people.” 

Then in October, Shea acknowledged distributing a four-page manifesto titled the “Biblical Basis for War” that called for an end to abortion and same-sex marriage and described the assassination of “tyrants” as “just.” The manifesto also included the line: “If they do not yield – kill all males.”

After the manifesto surfaced online, Shea took to Facebook Live to defend himself and said the document was part of a series of teachings on “just war theory” and was taken out of context. 

Still there was fallout. A handful of Shea’s corporate donors demanded he refund their campaign contributions.

Even so, days later he was re-elected to a sixth term in the Washington House.

That December, Shea faced a pair of complaints filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) regarding his use of surplus campaign funds. The complaints alleged Shea inappropriately used the money to make contributions to conservative and religious charitable groups not registered in Washington and to fund radio broadcasts. Shea hosts a weekly show on the American Christian Network called “Patriot Radio.” 

The complaints against Shea are still under investigation by the PDC. An agency spokesperson said that Shea’s treasurer failed to respond to a November subpoena seeking more information about surplus expenditures. Shea’s attorney, Mark Lamb, said he couldn’t comment since the case is still pending.

While at the Capitol, Shea generally exhibits the demeanor of a bespectacled, button-downed lawyer with a military bearing. But outside of Olympia he often shows up in the role of a far-right firebrand predicting the collapse of civilization.

For example, at a “Northwest Patriot and Self-Reliance” rally held in 2013 at a state park in North Idaho, Shea reportedly told the crowd to “prepare for the inevitable collapse.”

“If you do not have 5,000 rounds of .223, 5,000 rounds of .22 and 1,000 rounds of handgun ammo, as a minimum, you’re wrong,” Shea said, according to The Inlander newspaper

Visitors to the Capitol got a dose of that other side of Shea in February of this year when he gave a fiery speech to a small group of 51st state supporters -- some of them openly carrying firearms -- at an event in the rotunda.

“I’m not going to sit in a state that is going to try to take away our firearms,” Shea told the crowd. “So if they try to do that, then the only solution left is a 51st state.”

During the event, Shea had private security with him. He later said he had received death threats and was concerned about his safety. 

In April, as the legislative session was winding down, the controversy surrounding Shea intensified. The Guardian newspaper published leaked chat logs from 2017 that indicated Shea – using the chat-name “Verum Bellator” (meaning True Warrior) -- was part of a group that discussed conducting background checks on political opponents and even contemplated graphic acts of torture and violence such as “shaving her bald with a K-Bar USMC field knife.” 

While Shea appeared to offer to conduct background checks, the chat log indicated he did not participate in the talk of violence. He also didn’t disavow it.

For his part, Shea called The Guardian story “an extremely misleading hit-piece.”

It was later revealed the source of the chat logs was a former Shea confidante, Jay Pounder, who told The Spokesman Review that Shea and his allies were engaged in “Christian Identity Politics and Dominionism in its purest form and it is dangerous.” 

In May, The Guardian released audio excerpts from a speech Shea gave at the 2018 “God and Country Celebration” at Marble Country, a church compound near Marble, Washington in the northeastern part of the state.

In that speech, Shea said “liberty must be kept by force” and warned that “the communists are training, they’re planning, they’re organizing and they’re lying in wait.”

In response to the reporting, Democrats, including Gov. Jay Inslee, condemned Shea. Some called for his ouster from the House Republican caucus. In response, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox said his caucus would launch of review of Shea’s conduct.

“I want to understand these allegations as thoroughly as possible so that we’re acting on what we understand in depth rather than trying to absorb this information that’s coming out piecemeal,” Wilcox said at the time.

However, that didn’t satisfy House Democrats who sent Wilcox a letter on May 3 that said Shea’s “direct involvement in extremist activities erodes the state’s ideals of fairness and equality.”

“Through his words and actions, Representative Shea has aligned himself with voices that seek to erode the very ideals of our democracy and and One Washington,” the letter said.

The Democratic lawmakers called on Wilcox to publicly reprimand Shea and immediately remove him from his committee positions.

The letter also said the Speaker of the House was planning to initiate an independent investigation of Shea “to determine if further action is warranted.”

Wilcox declined to discipline Shea at the time, but endorsed the idea of an independent investigation.

In July, with the support of House Republican leadership, the Clerk of the House signed a $120,000 contract with The Rampart Group to investigate Shea.

Specifically, the firm was tasked with:

  • Determining whether Shea engaged in, planned or promoted political violence against groups or individuals.
  • Identifying Shea’s involvement with groups or individuals who promoted, engaged in or planned political violence.
  • Assessing the level of threat of political violence posed by the groups or individuals. 

Even as the investigation got underway, reports of Shea’s alliances with extremist groups continued – including information that potentially undermined his claim that the “Biblical Basis for War” manifesto was a purely academic exercise.

The Guardian, The Spokesman Review and The Inlander were often the news organizations leading the coverage of Shea. 

In mid-August, The Guardian reported Shea had ties to a group called “Team Rugged” that taught Christian youth to prepare for war against “Muslim terrorists,” according to emails obtained the newspaper. A Facebook Live video also surfaced of Shea interviewing members of “Team Rugged.” 

A few days later, The Spokesman Review reported on more leaked emails involving Shea that the newspaper said revealed that “Shea has in recent years sought to purchase GPS tracking devices, compiled dossiers on local progressive leaders and kept a blacklist of suspected informants in his network.” Among Shea’s alleged surveillance targets were three Spokane City Council members. 

In the wake of that reporting, those council members, other Spokane officials and the Spokane Police Guild called for his resignation.

In late August, Pounder leaked another document titled “Restoration” that he said Shea had authored and distributed in 2016. It contemplated a post-civil war environment where the government has collapsed and Christian patriots create a territorial “redoubt” where “Jesus Christ rules over this state as our legitimate sovereign Lord and King,” according to reporting by The Spokesman Review

As the reports about Shea continued to surface, more corporate supporters said they would no longer contribute to his campaign.

Despite the mounting pressure on him, Shea consistently refused reporter requests for interviews. Instead, he opted to communicate directly with his supporters via social media or friendly interviews with far-right talk show hosts.

The Rampart Group’s report was delivered to Bernard Dean, the chief clerk of the House, after Thanksgiving. Soon after, Shea’s lawyer advised the Attorney General’s office to prepare for a lawsuit, according to an email Dean sent to members, an image of which was obtained by the Northwest News Network.

As legislative leaders were briefed on the report’s contents, Shea granted a lengthy interview to Infowars host David Knight during which he compared the investigation into his conduct to the House impeachment of President Trump.

Shea also said the investigation was “revenge” for the 2016 Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation and the 2014 Bundy standoff in Nevada.

In 2016, Shea led what, at the time, he called a “fact-finding” mission to southeastern Oregon during the lengthy occupation of the wildlife refuge by armed militants. There he and other Northwest lawmakers met with the occupiers as well as with with local officials and the FBI. 

In 2014, Shea traveled to Nevada to lend support to rancher Cliven Bundy, whose son led the Malheur occupation, during his fight with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees. 

In his interview with Infowars, Shea said he had not seen the Rampart Group report or had a “meaningful opportunity to respond” to it. He called the investigation into him “political warfare according to a Maoist insurgency model” and said he wanted a trial so he could “rebut this Marxist smear campaign.”

During the lengthy interview, Shea also warned of a “counter-state threat of Islamists and Marxists that really want to take down this country.” 

“This is about the people who believe in freedom and liberty that are standing in the way of these Marxist and globalist plans to destroy this country,” Shea said.

In 2016, Shea formed a Spokane chapter of the group ACT for America which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an “anti-Muslim” organization. 

During his wide-ranging interview with Infowars, Shea also assailed “red flag” laws that are used to remove guns from someone deemed by a court to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others. Shea appeared to reference the recent case of the FBI using Washington’s extreme risk protection order law to seize weapons belonging to the alleged leader of the Washington branch of a neo-Nazi group known as the Atomwaffen Division. 

“When they label people white nationalists and racists, there’s a bigger play here and that is to disarm America’s population, particularly the population that believes in freedom and liberty,” Shea said in the interview.

He also referenced Sir John Bagot Glubb’s observation that empires typically survive for 250 years or 10 generations and noted that the United States is “in that window.”