Accused in a House investigation of participating in an act of domestic terrorism, Washington state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley defiantly returned to the Capitol on Monday – spurning calls for him to resign – and declared: “I’m not going to quit, I’m not going to back down.”
In an exclusive interview with public radio’s Northwest News Network, an upbeat Shea – “I’m doing great” – said he plans to fight any effort to expel him from the House chamber and called the allegations against him a “flat out lie.”
“I’ve been accused of a crime, I have not had any due process at all,” Shea said. “As a decorated Army combat veteran it’s quite offensive, candidly.”
Just before Christmas, the House released a 108-page report by an outside investigator that concluded Shea is a leader in the Patriot Movement, has close ties to militia groups and played a role in three armed standoffs, including the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
“Representative Shea participated in act of domestic terrorism against the United States by his actions before and during the armed takeover and standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” the investigation by the Rampart Group concluded.
The House turned the report over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Shea said the only contact he’s had with the FBI has been regarding threats against him and his family.
A lawyer by training, Shea assailed the report as incomplete and said the investigators failed to interview more than three dozen witnesses, including key participants in the Malheur takeover. After the release of the report, occupation leader Ammon Bundy told The Seattle Times that although he had communicated with Shea during the lead-up to the takeover and met with him while it was going on, Shea had not helped plan the occupation.
“The report’s findings are disintegrating because of those material witnesses,” said Shea who declined to participate in the House investigation.
Shea also noted that Bundy and other key players in the occupation had been acquitted at trial. None were charged with domestic terrorism.
The House investigation concluded that Shea participated in four phone calls with Bundy and others prior to the Malheur takeover and had “authored and circulated” a military-style planning brief during the occupation.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said he expects the House will soon release some of the source material that the investigators relied upon to draw their conclusions.
In a separate finding, the report said that Shea, using the codename Verum Bellator (“Truth Warrior”), participated in encrypted online chats during which violence against political opponents was contemplated. While Shea himself didn’t discuss violence, the report found that he offered to conduct background checks on people.
Asked about his communications, how he comports himself online and the use of secure platforms, Shea deflected. “Why aren’t we calling attention to the fact that we have widespread use of government resources to surveil Americans who are totally innocent – that’s the bigger question,” Shea said, adding that it’s an issue he wants to address legislatively this year.
Following the release of the investigation, House Republicans suspended Shea from their caucus and stripped him of his committee assignments. House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox also called on Shea to resign.
Now Shea has been relegated to an out-of-the-way office in the basement of the Capitol and given a seat at the back of the House chamber.
On Monday morning, a handful of supporters held signs at the entrance to the Capitol Campus that read “WE STAND WITH MATT SHEA.” Later, they gathered in Shea’s new office where some of them helped unpack his belongings.
“They have declared war on him, so it’s on,” said Kerry French of Kent. She quickly added, “We’re not going to hurt anyone, I’m saying politically … it’s on.”
Shea’s office had the feeling of a war room. At one point, cheers went up when the group learned the 26th Legislative District Republicans on the Kitsap Peninsula had just issued a resolution in support of Shea. Other local Republican parties have taken similar action since the release of the report.
Shea is also finding support among some fellow Republican lawmakers. On the steps of the Capitol, state Sen. Doug Ericksen called the investigation of Shea a partisan “witch hunt.”
“They got the result they wanted which was a sensational headline accusing Representative Shea of being a domestic terrorist,” Ericksen said. “Who gave the right and the authority to those investigators to make a claim like that? It’s just wrong.”
Newly-elected Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat, has said if Shea won’t resign he should be expelled. But it’s not clear any Republicans would join with Democrats to muster the required two-thirds vote.
If majority Democrats ultimately decide to proceed with an expulsion vote, Jinkins has said there would be a process set up whereby Shea could have an opportunity to be heard.
During the opening ceremonies in the House, during which Jinkins was sworn in as Speaker, Shea sat alone at his desk in the back of the chamber.
Now isolated, he’s essentially a caucus of one. But Shea rejected the suggestion he’s been marginalized and said he’s in Olympia to represent his constituents, defend the Constitution and – in a Facebook Live video – said his priorities for the 2020 session include fighting against gun control measures, higher taxes and what he called the persecution of Christians.
“There are thousands of people in Washington state that support me, thousands of people in America that support me, so I’m not alone by any stretch of the means,” Shea said.