OLYMPIA — Washington Democrats have called for the expulsion of GOP state Rep. Matt Shea from his caucus and other sanctions after a report that he allegedly participated in a group chat that discussed spying on and attacking political enemies.
A story by The Guardian on Saturday detailed group text messages purportedly exchanged among Shea and right-wing activists in response to November 2017 demonstrations around the country that had been planned by anti-fascists. Some conservatives feared those demonstrations would lead to a civil war.
According to The Guardian, the participants in the chat thread discussed physically attacking demonstrators, showing up at their homes, or where their children go to day care, and conducting background checks on political organizers.
Shea, who is from Spokane Valley, did not call for violence or surveillance, according to messages posted by The Guardian, but did offer to help conduct the background checks.
“Ok,” Shea reportedly wrote. “What BG checks need to be done. Give me the list.”
The revelations drew condemnation from the Washington State Democratic Party, Gov. Jay Inslee and Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib.
In an open letter released Monday morning, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski echoed calls by Habib for the House Republicans to boot Shea from their caucus.
“We also call on the State Republican Party to formally condemn and sanction Representative Shea,” wrote Podlodowski. “To do anything less is to condone and support the cancerous growth of extremism within your own ranks.”
Shea, the Washington State Republican Party and the Spokane County Republican Party did not respond to requests seeking comment. Shea, who rarely talks to news organizations, did not comment for The Guardian story.
It was unclear whether Shea, a 45-year-old attorney and military veteran first elected in 2008, would suffer any fallout. In a statement Monday evening, House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, condemned the text messages by the other members in the group chat.
“Threats of political violence have no place in our society and I condemn them in the strongest terms,” Wilcox said in prepared remarks. “The statements made by others in a text conversation with Representative Matt Shea were wrong and deeply upsetting. I take these statements seriously and condemn them with no reservation.”
“My conversations with Matt and Leadership will continue,” he added.
House Democratic leaders have discussed the accusations against Shea but want to speak with House Republicans on Tuesday before making any other statement, according to caucus spokesman Jim Richards.
Rep. Bob McCaslin, a Spokane Valley lawmaker who hails from the same legislative district as Shea, defended his colleague. McCaslin said he was aware of the allegations and had spoken with Shea.
“I know for sure they’re not true,” said McCaslin. “Matt is an honest man who really works hard for his constituents.”
This week’s contoversy is only the latest to bring attention to Shea. He conducted “fact-finding” trips to Nevada and Oregon during standoffs spearheaded by members of the Bundy family in those states in 2014 and 2016, according to news reports.
Last year, Shea was scheduled to speak at a meeting of anti-government conspiracy theorists in Whitefish, Montana, headlined by Ammon Bundy, who oversaw the 2016 armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Shea also drew scrutiny last autumn for distributing a four-page manifesto that espoused a biblical basis for war and discussed the composition of a “Holy Army.”
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich at the time called it “a ‘how to’ manual consistent with the ideology and operating philosophy of the Christian Identity/Aryan Nations movement and the Redoubt movement of the 1990s,” according to a report in The Spokesman-Review.
Shea acknowledged distributing the document, but said it was taken out of context. He brushed aside claims by detractors as “smears and slander and innuendo and implication.”
One of eight lawmakers appointed to a work group to examine the Legislature’s public-records laws, Shea also attracted notice last summer for calling journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people.”
Shea held a leadership role with House Republicans, as caucus chair. He lost that position after the November elections.
This year, Shea’s most visible project in Olympia perhaps has been touting a secessionist movement that would cleave Washington in half and create a 51st state. He is also listed as a speaker for a gun-rights rally at the Capitol scheduled for Saturday.
Despite — or perhaps even because of —controversies surrounding him, voters in Spokane County’s 4th Legislative District have continued to reelect him by comfortable margins. Collecting 58% of the vote last November, Shea easily defeated a Democratic challenger.
After The Guardian report was published, Habib over the weekend called on House Republicans to expel Shea.
Inslee weighed in Monday with a statement saying, “Rep. Matt Shea’s history of hate has now crossed a new line.”
In prepared remarks, the governor said, “Rep. Shea embodies a strain of extreme ideology that, throughout the decades and into the present, has caused deep harm to people and families.”
Shea is currently the ranking Republican on the House Environment & Energy Committee, and also sits on the Transportation Committee as well as the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee.
When asked her reaction to the latest report on Shea, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma and chair of the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee said, “I can’t even begin to understand or explain that.”