Last year, the chair of the Republican caucus in Washington’s state legislature acknowledged that he had written a manifesto on the “Biblical Basis for War.” In that document, the lawmaker argued that – as far as Jesus Christ was concerned – American Christians have the right to “kill all males” who support abortion, same-sex marriage or communism (so long as they first give such infidels the opportunity to renounce their heresies).
The manifesto’s revelation cost its author, Matt Shea, his chairmanship. But Shea insisted that his writings were merely “a summary of church sermons on Old Testament war that could help place current events in historical context.” And so, the Washington GOP did not call for Shea to resign or expel him from its House caucus.
This past spring, the Guardian obtained text messages in which Shea discussed targetting anti-fascist activists for surveillance, harassment, and violence. One of Shea’s interlocutors, online radio personality Jack Robertson, offered this prescription for the treatment of a female antifa protester: “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.”
The Republican lawmaker replied, “Ok. What BG [background] checks need to be done. Give me the list.”
The leader of Washington’s House Republicans JT Wilcox called Shea’s participation in this chat “deeply upsetting,” and promised that “My conversations with Matt and the leadership will continue.” But Wilcox did not feel that Shea’s actions required his expulsion from government.
Nevertheless, Shea’s activities – which included working with Robertson on a plan for Eastern Washington to secede and reconstitute as “Liberty State” – concerned prominent conservatives in his corner of rural Washington. Spokane County’s Trump-supporting sheriff, Ozzie Knezovich, had long sounded alarms about Shea’s extremism. Meanwhile, one of Shea’s former supporters, Jay Pounder, supplied the press and state legislature with documents detailing Shea’s plans for establishing a theocratic government in Washington following some unspecified “collapse event.”
All this led Washington’s House of Representatives to commission a report on Shea from a former FBI agent. That report, which was released last week, alleges that 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 Government in three states outside the state of Washington over a three-year period.”
Among these was the occupation of Oregon’s Malheur wildlife refuge in 2016. As the Seattle Times reports:
Shea participated in four phone calls with Ammon Bundy in advance of the January 2016 Malheur occupation, the report found. The day after the occupation began, Shea, using the code name Verumbellator, created a detailed military-style plan called Operation Cold Reality that laid out roles and responsibilities for militia members and for an organization that Shea chaired, the Coalition of Western States.
Days later, Shea traveled to Burns, Oregon, the site of the standoff, identified himself as a state representative and met with local and national law enforcement, the report found. He “gathered intelligence” about law enforcement strategies and operations from that meeting and then met with Ammon Bundy and other armed occupiers of the refuge, the report found, despite warnings from law enforcement.
Shea has now been “suspended” from the House Republican caucus, and Wilcox has called for his resignation. But, as of this writing, an alleged practitioner of radical Christian terrorism remains a state legislator in Washington.
Shea’s story demonstrates that even deeply conservative Trump supporters (typically) see a bright line between the president’s brand of politics and those of far-right militias – even if the commander-in-chief sometimes blurs that distinction rhetorically. But it also reflects the fact that there are a large number of “atypical” ultraconservatives in the United States who are inclined to take Donald Trump’s most incendiary rhetoric – and that of Trump’s allies at Fox News – both seriously and literally. When Tucker Carlson informs his viewers that Democrats are plotting a “coup” that will irrevocably disempower white Christian America (by enfranchising undocumented immigrants), or when Laura Ingraham explains that immigrants are turning formerly Republican states into “Petri dish[es] for radical left-wing ideas,” some “Second Amendment people” will follow their paranoid, xenophobic logic to its endpoint.
In September, the president said on Twitter that if Democrats successfully remove him from office, it will cause “a Civil War like fracture.” One of Matt Shea’s allied organizations, the Oath Keepers, approvingly quoted Trump’s tweet.
“This is the truth,” the group wrote. “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are.”