At various points in his strange career, State Representative Matt Shea of Washington’s Spokane Valley has called for a holy war on liberals, advocated for eastern Washington to secede from the union, and spoken to meetings of the John Birch Society. Now, despite a new report that details his participation in a disturbing far-right group chat, Shea, a Republican, is clinging to power. His party seems reluctant to condemn him.
Shea’s most recent public-relations crisis unfolded on Saturday. The Guardian’s Jason Wilson published texts sent by Shea and two other men, whom Wilson identified as far-right radio host Jack Robertson and Anthony Bosworth, who helped occupy the Malheur wildlife refuge in 2016. In the texts, which date from 2017, Shea appears to offer material assistance to Robertson and Bosworth, who believed a left-wing uprising was imminent and proposed a violent response. “Ok. What BG checks need to be done. Give me the list,” he wrote. Robertson and Bosworth offered more threatening contributions. “Fist full of hair, and face slam, to a Jersey barrier. Treat em like communist revolutionaries. Then shave her bald with a K-Bar USMC field knife,” Robertson wrote. Robertson told the Guardian that his comments were “tongue-in-cheek.”
Though Shea did not make threats in the chats, his participation, and his apparent offer to run background checks on local left-wing activists, swiftly earned him a round of political condemnation. The state Democratic Party has called on the GOP to boot Shea from its ranks. But in a statement, Republican House Minority Leader JT Wilcox stopped short of calling for Shea’s resignation or even for his censure.
That’s troubling, and not just because of Shea’s offer to surveil left-wing activists. His extremism is old news in Washington, and the Republican Party seems to ignore his trespasses until unfavorable press coverage occasionally forces its hand.
The lawmaker, who volunteered as a pro-bono attorney for the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom, first ran for office on a family-values platform in 2008. But his ex-wife has accused him of domestic violence. In divorce filings reported by the Spokane Spokesman-Review at the time, Lisa Shea said that her husband “insisted she walk on his left side because his sword, if he had one, would be on his right side.” According to the same story, her brother-in-law testified that Shea berated his wife, grabbed her violently by the arm, and once pushed her into a vehicle.
Nevertheless, voters elected Shea to office and kept him there. In the meantime, the lawmaker’s official Facebook page became a wonderland of conspiratorial nonsense. In one public post, he links to a blog that warns of an approaching “grand solar minimum”; this theory purportedly disproves the reality of climate change. In other posts, he links to his own podcast, where he’s interviewed luminaries like Larry Klayman, the far-right activist behind JudicialWatch; Jerome Corsi, an infamous Obama birther who once speculated that Antonin Scalia was murdered on a pedophile ranch; and Tom DeWeese, who promotes the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory about a looming United Nations takeover of the United States.
But Shea’s far-right views didn’t block his ascent within the state GOP. He even served as the chair of the Republican caucus, and only lost the position in 2018, after press reports linked him to a four-page manifesto that outlined a literal war on liberals. “If they do not yield, kill all males,” he wrote. Who knows what he’d planned for the women. The Guardian reports that after the manifesto became public knowledge, Shea did lose donors in addition to his removal as chair of the party’s caucus, but he won reelection anyway.
Shea admitted authorship of the manifesto, but defended it as a “summary” of sermons about the basis for biblical war. He sounds similarly unrepentant now. On Tuesday, the Seattle Times reported that Shea had written a lengthy public Facebook post that called the Guardian’s story a “hit piece.”
“Of course I have done background checks to protect my family and my community, but that was only in response to threats already coming from the left,” he wrote. “I will continue to fight to protect the Constitution, my family, and my community. I will not back down. I will not quit. I will not give in. Ever.” If state Republicans don’t intend to hold him accountable in some substantive fashion, it’s hard to see why he’d have to give in to anyone, about anything, at all.