OLYMPIA — Surrounded by hundreds of cheering supporters at the Capitol steps, Washington Rep. Matt Shea Friday vowed to stand up for the Second Amendment and railed against accusations that he participated in domestic terrorism against the United States.
Shea’s appearance comes amid heightened tensions as House Democrats consider whether to hold hearings to expel him from the Legislature.
The lawmaker often speaks at the annual gun-rights rally. But this year, Shea’s declaration to fight the allegations against him — outlined in a House-commissioned investigation released last month — prompted a display of loyalty to the Spokane Valley Republican and his call to fight for liberty.
But the moment also highlighted the intense anger among some over Shea’s situation.
The Washington State Patrol confirmed Friday it was investigating online threats against House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, who suspended Shea from the GOP caucus.
The House investigation concluded Shea participated in and planned domestic terrorism with his involvement in three standoffs against the government, including the one at Eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That report has been forwarded to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the wake of that report, Wilcox suspended Shea, which resulted in the lawmaker losing his committee assignments. Wilcox also called on him to resign.
Shea has said the report’s findings and allegations are false and slammed the investigation as a “Marxist smear campaign.”
On Friday, Shea told about 500 people gathered for the gun-rights rally that the government has neglected to investigate America’s “real enemies,” anti-fascist groups.
“The real enemies of this country aren’t being investigated, the real enemies of this country aren’t being looked into, the real enemies of this country aren’t being reported on by the media,” said Shea, to cheers.
“The real enemies of this country want to destroy the Constitution, they want to destroy everything we believe in,” continued Shea, who added that he served tours of duty overseas in the military. “And I came back and this is a new battlefield for us, isn’t it?”
Friday afternoon, the Washington State Patrol confirmed it was investigating alleged violent threats made on a Facebook post that discussed Wilcox and the rally.
A since-deleted Facebook post on a page promoting 3% of Washington, a right-wing group, mentioned the rally and stated “Here we come Olympia. JT Wilcox, your reign is coming to an end.”
Comments on that post included “Public executions!!!!!” and “Hog tie em” and “Should I bring the rope?”
State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said troopers are following up on the comments.
“As this is now under investigation, I am not at liberty to provide further detail but your readers can be assured that we take the safety and security of everyone who works at or visits the Capitol very seriously and will always follow up on comments that could be perceived as a threat to our elected officials,” Loftis wrote in an email.
Matt Marshall, a leader of the Three Percenters group, said he does not manage their Facebook page and was unaware of the comments.
“Our admins are told that when things get violent to block the members, and if it gets out of control to take down the post,” said Marshall, who spoke at Friday’s rally. “If we see something like that, we definitely either block or ban the member, or we take down the post.”
The 108-page investigative report alleged that, starting in November 2015, Shea worked with militia leader Ammon Bundy and assisted “in the planning and preparation” of the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a six-week standoff in which dozens of armed protesters occupied the refuge. The standoff ended after a protester was shot and killed by law enforcement and dozens of others were arrested.
In an interview Friday, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said her fellow Democrats have discussed the report in a closed-door meeting, and, “It’s fair to say my caucus is as troubled as I am about it.”
Jinkins has said there would be a process — such as public hearings — to accompany any expulsion vote. Lawmakers haven’t decided whether to move forward with that.
But Jinkins said she has called upon the firm that conducted the investigation, the Rampart Group, to release the report’s supporting documents to the House so lawmakers in both parties can review them.
“And I expect they’ll be made public,” she added.
The Washington State Republican Party and the Spokane County Republican Party have remained quiet about the lawmaker, and have not responded to requests for comment.
That has left Wilcox and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, to denounce Shea, who has found vocal support among right-wing militia groups.
Asked Friday about the Facebook comments the State Patrol is investigating, Wilcox said, “This stuff comes with public life and I knew that when I first ran for office.”
The rally came as lawmakers are scheduled Monday to hold public hearings on a range of new gun laws, largely sponsored by Democratic lawmakers.
One of those, Senate Bill 6077, would ban the sale of most magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Another, Senate Bill 6294, would require firearms training for people seeking a concealed-pistol license.
Among others is a GOP-sponsored proposal, Senate Bill 6406, which would classify the theft of a firearm from a home, shop or sales outlet as a class B felony.
Large corporations and political action committees that helped fund Shea’s campaigns began backing away in late 2018, when reports emerged that Shea authored a document spelling out guidelines for conducting a holy war.
It included provisions such as, “If they do not yield — kill all males.” Shea has acknowledged he distributed the documents but said it is only a historical sermon that has been taken out of context.
Since the release of the report, more big donors — including the Washington State Hospital Association’s political action committee and Anheuser-Busch — told The Seattle Times they would no longer support his campaign.
The Washington Association For Justice — which operates The Justice For All PAC — went even further.
“We have modified our bylaws to ensure that fitness for office is evaluated when we assess candidates and races in the future,” the civil-justice advocacy organization wrote in a statement.
In an interview Friday morning before the rally, Shea, who was first elected in 2008, said that despite losing his legislative committees and caucus membership, he plans to sponsor legislation this year.
The lawmaker has already signed on to a few bills as a co-sponsor.
“This session I’m going to continue to fight for my constituents and what they believe in and their values, in particular taking on the issues of gun control and taxes,” said Shea.
The lawmaker added that if House hearings do happen, “I want the opportunity to call witnesses, and I made that very clear.”
Shea — who did not sit for an interview with investigators — disputed the contention that he refused to participate in the process. And the lawmaker said he was given a copy of the report only about 90 minutes before it became public.
“I think that everybody who participated should have afforded me due process,” said Shea. “Because I think they would expect the same for themselves.”