Knife combat, secret GPS trackers, lists of suspected informants, a guide to religious insurgency—and a group of Christian survivalists who are waiting for the apocalypse.
That all sounds like the makings of a thriller, but it’s just the past few years in the life of Washington state Rep. Matthew Shea (R), whose political fate is teetering on the edge this month after his ties to a group training for violent “biblical warfare” were exposed.
While Shea has served in the Washington House of Representatives, he’s also been building links with radical Christian groups. Much of that work has been for the founding of “American Redoubt,” a concept popular with far-right groups in the Pacific Northwest that imagines turning Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and parts of Oregon and Washington into a sort of fortress for Christians to ride out the collapse of society. In a 2017 speech to Redoubt believers, Shea declared that the hypothetical Redoubt would be “the best place in America.”
But Shea’s work for the Redoubt and other far-right efforts has gone beyond speeches. Shea is under investigation for participating in group chats in which members discussed using violence and intimidation against liberal activists, and a former acolyte says Shea discussed purchasing GPS trackers to keep an eye on his opponents. Now newly leaked emails between Shea and the founder of a paramilitary training group, first reported by The Guardian, have offered new insight into the undercover activity of one of the country’s strangest state lawmakers.
“Matt Shea has been acting like an extremist, and really without any accountability, for a long time,” said Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the left-leaning Western States Center.
In the emails reported by The Guardian, Shea corresponds with Patrick Caughran, the founder of a paramilitary training group called Team Rugged. While Shea had interacted with the group in public before, the emails make clear that Shea knew Team Rugged was training for violence and practicing with guns and knives.
In the email, Caughran tells Shea that Team Rugged trained Christians for war, describing it as “patriotic and biblical training on war for young men.”
Caughran adds that the training includes preparing young men to fight Muslims.
“There will be scenarios where every participant will have to fight against one of the most barbaric enemies that are invading our country, Muslims terrorists (sic),” he wrote.
Shea didn’t respond to a request for comment. In a Facebook post, he described the Guardian story about his links to Caughran and Team Rugged as “another hit piece” and blamed it on an “Antifa linked reporter.”
This is far from the first time Shea’s ties to extremist groups have been exposed. In October, Shea acknowledged authoring a four-page guide called the “Biblical Basis for War,” which appears to lay out a plan for a revolution to institute a harsh Christian theocracy in the country. In one section, he describes how to create a paramilitary squad to force jurisidictions into instituting strict conservative laws, outlawing abortion and gay marriage.
“If they do not yield,” Shea wrote, “kill all males.”
Shea insisted that the document was not a practical guide for insurgent violence and was instead merely a “summary of a series of sermons.”
Shea was also a member of a group chat in which other participants discussed using political violence against their foes. In the messages, which were sent while Shea was in the group, members discussed intimidating activists by confronting them at their homes. Another participant talked about bashing a woman’s head into a road barrier and forcibly cutting her hair with a knife. In July, Washington’s House of Representatives authorized $120,000 to pay for private investigators to investigate Shea’s ties to extremist groups.
Former Shea bodyguard Jay Pounder has told reporters that Shea’s plans for covert action went far beyond just a group chat. In messages to Pounder, the ex-bodyguard says Shea discussed buying GPS trackers to keep an eye on the movements of his political opponents and making a list of potential informants among his inner circle who could help government investigators. Shea also compiled dossiers on local progressive politicians and built a list of local law enforcement officials, apparently in an attempt to track any investigation.
“He was always scared that the government was listening,” Pounder told Spokane’s Spokesman-Review. “He was always scared that if a black van pulled up, the doors would fly open and they’d scoop him away. And he always said that he would not go down without a fight.”
The latest revelations about Shea have set off a host of calls for his resignation. Spokane’s mayor, city council chairman, and police chief have called on Shea to resign, as has Spokane’s police union.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, a Republican who endorsed Shea in earlier elections, has also called for his resignation. If Shea doesn’t resign, Knezovich has said, Republicans need to oust Shea.
“I truly believe it’s time for the leadership of the Republican Party in the state of Washington, his peers, to step up and have the courage and the integrity to do the right thing,” Knezovich said to the Spokesman-Review. “If he will not step down, they need to work to remove him.”
For now, though, Shea isn’t going anywhere, and Republican state lawmakers have proven less willing to denounce his ties to extremist groups.
“It’s past time for state Republican leaders to take responsibility,” Schubiner said.