OLYMPIA — Washington state Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, on Monday introduced a bill to ban firearms on the Capitol campus after lawmakers and staff were left shaken Friday when more than 100 armed demonstrators showed up to apparently protest the treatment of Rep. Matt Shea.
The protesters, some carrying long guns and tactical gear, did not have a permit to demonstrate on the site. They were there attempting to speak with House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, according to House officials.
Wilcox in December suspended Shea from the caucus after a House-commissioned investigation concluded the lawmaker participated in and planned domestic terrorism incidents against the United States, including the one at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Friday’s demonstration is not the first to included armed protesters rallying at the Capitol for Shea — and denouncing Wilcox. The Washington State Patrol began investigating potential online threats made against Wilcox in the run-up to a gun-rights rally last month where Shea spoke.
On Friday, Wilcox was away, but the demonstrators allegedly berated his legislative aide, using profanity.
“Obviously we’re concerned about what happened,” said House Chief Clerk Bernard Dean. “They were here specifically for Shea and they verbally abused Rep. Wilcox’s legislative assistant.”
As many as 175 demonstrators showed up at the Capitol, but then broke into smaller groups and not all went inside, according to Linda Kent, spokeswoman for the state Department of Enterprise Services.
“We’ve been debriefing about this for most of the day,” added Dean. “And I think we need to take steps that we’re not blindsided like that.”
Gun-rights advocate Tessa Ashley said she organized the demonstration as a Second Amendment rally through the March For Our Rights Facebook page, but that Friday’s action wasn’t affiliated with any particular group.
The group marched to the Capitol building, she said. “But it wasn’t like an organized event, we didn’t have a speaker list.”
Some of the demonstrators wanted to ask Wilcox about Shea, said Ashley, who acknowledged some demonstrators used profane language. “But it was in no way directed” at Wilcox’s legislative staffer, she said.
The appearance of armed demonstrators at the Capitol building and another legislative building used for House hearings upset children and staffers, according to Senn.
“School kids were blocked and trying to get past them,” she said, adding later: “Staff were freaked out, lobbyists left the building.”
Senn said that the demonstration felt like intimidation that could deter people from coming to Olympia to participate in government.
Matt Marshall, a leader of the Washington Three Percenters, was at the Capitol on Friday, but he said his group was not with those who tried to find Wilcox.
Marshall, who intends to run against Wilcox next year for the 2nd Legislative District seat, said he was concerned his group would “get lumped in with these more in-your-face people.”
“We have for a year now been very, very conscious about having a professional image because we want to be taken seriously and we recognize that this image is not helping the cause,” Marshall said.
Wilcox was not in the building at the time, but said in an interview that security staff were shaken by the incident.
He said he doesn’t agree with Senn’s House Bill 2925 to ban firearms at the campus, saying, “We’ve had decades of peaceful Second Amendment rallies” at the Capitol.