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Report Claims Washington State Lawmaker Participated In Act Of Terrorism


A new report says a lawmaker in Washington state participated in an act of terrorism. Matt Shea is a Republican in the state legislature, and he's a leader in the Patriot Movement. This report was commissioned by the Washington State House and conducted by a former FBI agent. It concludes that Shea planned, engaged in and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the U.S. government. Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network joins us to talk about this. Hi, Austin.


SHAPIRO: This report makes some really serious allegations, so explain what these armed conflicts of political violence were that investigators concluded Shea helped plan and promote.

JENKINS: Yeah, so Shea is accused in this report of having participated in - planned three events - one in Nevada in 2014, one in Idaho in 2015 and then the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, which lasted 41 days, made national and international news. The report says Shea has engaged in, quote, "irresponsible and possibly illegal activities" that have benefited him politically while also delivering victories to the Patriot Movement, victories that served to draw in more angry sympathizers.

The report finds that, while Shea doesn't pose an imminent threat, that he's likely to be involved in future conflicts that could carry with them significant risk of bloodshed. And finally, the report says that Shea helped found and currently chairs an organization called the Coalition of Western States, whose membership has included other far-right western state lawmakers and which - and again, I'm quoting here from the report - relies exclusively on armed militia members to carry out tactical operations in advancing their political objectives.

SHAPIRO: Really extraordinary for a lawmaker to be accused of promoting terrorism - in this case, right-wing anti-government terrorism. How is he responding?

JENKINS: He is saying that this is a sham investigation. He's saying that this is a smear campaign. He has not been talking directly to the media, but he is posting to Facebook. And he appeared on a podcast called "Church And State" that was posted to the Christian conservative site Redoubt News. Shea has compared this investigation into his conduct to President Trump's impeachment, and here's a bit of what he said on the podcast.


MATT SHEA: This is a coup. This is an attempt to overthrow duly elected leaders who are standing up for the constitution and who are standing up for the Bible, candidly.

JENKINS: In a statement issued through his attorney and on Facebook, Shea says he won't resign, he won't back down, that he intends to continue to fight. He says that he's been labeled a terrorist with no basis in law or fact and that he's been denied due process. By the way, Shea did not cooperate with this investigation. And I should also add that The Seattle Times spoke with Ammon Bundy, who led the Malheur takeover. He's disputing the report's conclusion that Shea helped to plan that occupation. Bundy and six others were acquitted at trial for their involvement in that armed takeover. They faced a range of charges, but it's important to note that domestic terrorism was not one of them.

SHAPIRO: So what are other members of the Washington state legislature doing - I mean, especially members of the Republican Party that Shea is a part of?

JENKINS: Yeah, they took swift action. The House Republican caucus here in Washington State removed him from their caucus, ousted him, stripped him of his committee assignments. The House Republican leader here, Republican J.T. Wilcox, called on Shea to resign. And here he is speaking to reporters last Thursday about the investigation and specifically about Shea's alleged involvement in the Malheur takeover.


JT WILCOX: There were hundreds of law enforcement officers who were put in danger because it was kind of a mass armed confrontation. Those people weren't policymakers. They were just everyday Americans. And so the thing that bothered me the most was that all of these innocent people were put in danger as a result of planning these confrontations.

SHAPIRO: Austin, here in the U.S., when we have seen people of color accused of involvement in Islamist extremism, there is often a massive machine that churns into motion to stamp it out. Is that what we're seeing here?

JENKINS: I think it's too early to say. The fact it's been referred to the FBI does mean there could be a criminal investigation, and that, of course, raises the specter of possible prosecution down the road. Here at the state legislature, Representative Shea could face censure or even potential ouster from the House chamber come January. He's also going to be up for re-election next year, and he has proved very popular in his district. It's not unforeseeable to think that he could even be re-elected.

SHAPIRO: That's Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network. Thank you.

JENKINS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."