State Rep. Matt Shea planned and participated in domestic terrorism against the United States before and during the armed takeover at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, an investigation commissioned by the Washington state House found.
The 108-page report found that beginning in November 2015, Shea, working with militia leader Ammon Bundy, helped “in the planning and preparation” of the Malheur takeover, a six-week conflict in which dozens of armed protesters occupied the refuge in rural Eastern Oregon. The standoff ended after one protester was shot and killed and dozens were arrested.
“Representative 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,” according to the report released Thursday. “In one conflict Representative Shea led covert strategic pre-planning in advance of the conflict.”
Immediately after the report was released, Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the Republican minority leader of the House, said Shea “has been suspended from any role in the House Republican Caucus.”
“He should resign,” Wilcox wrote on Twitter. “He cannot use House Republican staff, he cannot meet with the caucus, his office will be moved.” Shea’s name and picture were removed from the House GOP website.
Shea said he would not step down, calling the investigation a “sham.”
“I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook Thursday night. “Stand strong fellow Patriots.”
The report concluded that Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican first elected in 2008, is closely associated with several armed militias and uses his prominence in the Patriot Movement to dispatch militia members to conflicts with government officials. The Patriot Movement is a loose organization of conservative groups and individuals in mostly rural areas that includes organized militia members and so-called sovereign citizens, who are generally united by deep suspicion and fear of the federal government.
The movement grew after standoffs at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and Waco, Texas, in the 1990s; the Oklahoma City bombing was carried out by Patriot Movement members.
Shea, 45, also traveled to an armed standoff in 2014 in Bunkerville, Nevada, and “publicly supported” the armed militia’s standoff involving rancher Cliven Bundy, and engaged in a 2015 armed conflict in Bonner County, Idaho, the report found.
The report has been forwarded to the FBI and to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said incoming Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins.
“This is about a state lawmaker who, according to the investigative findings, engaged in an act of domestic terrorism rather than choosing political or legal avenues to change laws and policies he disagrees with,” Jinkins said. “This is why we believe formal action needs to be taken that sends a clear message upholding the values of a free and democratic society, and supports the safety of all Washingtonians.”
In Washington’s 130-year history, only one lawmaker has been expelled from the Legislature, an action which requires a vote of at least two-thirds of the House.
The House Republican caucus was briefed on the report in a Thursday conference call. One legislator on the call, which did not include Shea, said “one or two” representatives questioned whether the report was biased, but the overall sentiment to suspend Shea from the caucus was “overwhelming.”
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.
In 2016, Shea told a House Ethics investigator that he traveled to Oregon only on a “fact-finding mission.”
Two other Washington Republicans, then-state Rep. Graham Hunt and Steve McLaughlin, the party’s 2016 nominee for state lands commissioner, were included on emails planning the Malheur occupation, the report found.
Commissioned this summer and conducted by an outside firm led by a former FBI agent, the investigation examined whether Shea promoted or planned political violence, and the extent of his association with people involved in those activities. Investigators interviewed 34 witnesses and reviewed more than 120,000 documents in compiling the report.
House leaders of both parties initiated the investigation into Shea this year after reports that he participated in group chats that discussed violence against and surveillance of political opponents. Those reports were among a recent deluge of news articles detailing ties between Shea and extremist movements.
The outside firm, the Rampart Group, submitted its report in early December, but it was tightly held by House leadership for weeks, its contents unknown to the public, legislators and even Shea himself.
Thursday morning, before the public release of the report, Shea, who rarely speaks to the media, issued a statement calling the House’s investigation “unprecedented” and saying they were investigating “lawful communications between a member of the House and citizens of this country.”
“Due process is the right of every citizen, and should be afforded to all members of the House regardless of their views or party affiliation,” Shea said. “I will not back down. I will continue to fight for our shared values that have made this country such a blessing to the rest of the world.”
But the report found that Malheur was the third armed conflict in which Shea played a role. It found no evidence that Shea presents an imminent threat to any individual or group, but “considerable evidence” that, since 2014, Shea has presented a “significant threat of political violence against employees of the federal government and state and local law enforcement officers.”
“Representative Shea presents a present and growing threat of risk to others through political violence,” investigators wrote.
In 2014, Shea played a crucial role in escalating the armed conflict in Nevada, where armed protesters led by rancher Cliven Bundy were in a standoff with federal agents, according to the report. Five days after that conflict began, Shea posted to a blog, instructing “patriots” to rally at the Bundy ranch. At the time of his post, 100 protesters were at the site, the report found. Less than a day later, 1,500 armed militia members were “armed and ready to fight the federal government.”
Shea then traveled to the ranch, staying for three days and speaking in support of Bundy.
In August 2015, Shea traveled to Priest River, Idaho, to protest on a behalf of a veteran who had suffered a stroke and was added to a federal list making him ineligible to buy a firearm. About 100 protesters, many of them armed, followed suit, after Shea posted a “call to arms” on Facebook. Investigators later found a document entitled “IDAHO DEPLOYMENT — Operation Armed Backyard,” with the initials VB, which they believe refer to Shea’s code name of Verumbellator.
Investigators wrote it was likely they “were preparing for a conflict that carried with it significant risk of violence.”
Last year, Shea acknowledged distributing a document titled “Biblical Basis for War” that provides guidelines for conducting holy war. The document included guidelines like, “If they do not yield — kill all males.” Shea has said he distributed it purely as a historical sermon and that it has been taken out of context.
News stories reported that Shea allegedly discussed tracking political opponents with methods like GPS devices; purportedly keeps a list of Washington law-enforcement officers; and was tied to a group of young men in Eastern Washington that has trained with firearms in preparation for religious war.
Some of those reports emerged with the help of two former Shea allies who grew troubled by the lawmaker and his actions.
Before Thursday, several Spokane-area officials and groups — Ozzie Knezovich, the Republican sheriff of Spokane County; the former Republican mayor of Spokane, and the Spokane Police Guild — had called for Shea’s resignation.
State Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski called Thursday for Shea to resign and face prosecution.
Knezovich, a vocal Shea critic, also reportedly advocated criminal charges. “I believe there’s enough to charge Shea with domestic terrorism, if not treason,” he said, according to a Spokane television station reporter.
Over the years, corporate and advocacy groups donating to his campaign have perhaps unwittingly bankrolled a campaign operation that Shea has used to air his far-right views on a radio show, advance his dreams to secede by forming a 51st state and even travel to “anti-terrorism” training.
In an interview on Infowars this month, Shea called the investigation a “Marxist smear campaign” and “political warfare according to a Maoist insurgency model.” He also compared it to the inquiries into President Donald Trump, which he did again Thursday on Facebook.
Shea also said during the interview that he had “not been provided a meaningful opportunity to respond” to the investigation.
But Shea, according to the report, declined to be interviewed, despite repeated attempts from investigators.
Staff reporters Joseph O’Sullivan and Mike Carter contributed to this report.