Anti-Islamophobia demonstrators crash anti-Sharia protest
If state Rep. Matt Shea’s views on church and state could fit on a bumper sticker, it might say, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
That phrase appears repeatedly in a trove of private emails and documents recently obtained by The Spokesman-Review through multiple sources. Shea, R-Spokane Valley, has used it to sign messages to his associates on the far right, including militia members who took part in the 2016 armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge.
The phrase helps explain how Shea justifies his us-against-them rhetoric. Muslims, journalists and critics of all political stripes are “supporting tyranny” if they don’t support his view that the United States is “a Christian nation.” Critics fear that Shea, an Army combat veteran, has begun employing that same principle to justify violence – to “resist tyranny” and “obey God” by any means at his disposal.
Last year, at the Marble religious compound in northern Stevens County, Shea described a brewing civil war in the United States, telling a crowd: “Liberty must be kept by force.” He later acknowledged writing a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War.” And recently, “Bundyville,” a podcast about right-wing extremism in the American West, explored Shea’s connections to the racist Christian Identity movement and dominionism, the idea that Christians have a God-given right to govern.
Already, Shea and some of his closest supporters have made physical preparations for a holy war, one that would help them establish their long-envisioned 51st state, their Redoubt, their Christian homeland. Leaked emails published this week reveal that Shea has had close ties with a group that conducted “patriotic and biblical training on war for young men.”
In addition to running “background checks” on liberal activists and supporting military-style training for boys and young men, Shea has in recent years sought to purchase GPS tracking devices, compiled dossiers on local progressive leaders and kept a blacklist of suspected informants in his network. He also plotted to establish a “provisional government” in the event of a collapse and boasted about his efforts to “turn back the tide” of those who practice Islam in the United States.
Shea also distributed a list that purported to include the names and phone numbers of every law enforcement officer working in Washington state, saying it would help to “confirm or deny legitimacy” of investigators who made contact. He and his associates used email servers and messaging apps designed with extra layers of encryption in an attempt to shield their identities. He signed messages “V” or “V/B” – short for his code name, Verum Bellator, which is Latin for “truth warrior.”
Shea, who rarely speaks to the news media, did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
“He was a paranoid dude,” recalled Jay Pounder, a whistleblower who once worked on Shea’s informal security detail. “He was always scared that the government was listening. 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.”
In a statement Saturday, the Spokane chapter of the NAACP responded to the revelations of the past week, saying Shea “uses his platform to promote hate and violence” and calling for his removal from office.
“Every moment he occupies a seat in our state Legislature emboldens extremists and erodes the legitimacy of our sacred institutions,” the NAACP said. “Anything short of the expulsion of Matt Shea from the Washington state House of Representatives is a threat to our community, a threat to our collective safety and an implicit endorsement of white supremacy.”
Pounder, who worked for Shea for several years, said that Shea outfitted him with various electronic tools designed to detect hidden recording devices and disrupt transmitters.
“He gave me a bug sniffer,” Pounder said. “He gave me a cellphone jammer that plugs into a cigarette lighter.”
Emails show that in July 2016, Pounder, using the code name Fox, presented Shea with a short list of Ebay links – a selection of GPS devices that might come in handy for tracking perceived adversaries.
“He was thinking that, at some point in the future, there would be concerning people that need to be tracked,” Pounder recalled.
Some of the trackers were “active,” meaning they would transmit the real-time location of a person or vehicle, while others were “passive,” meaning someone would have to retrieve the device to view location data. Pounder asked Shea which type and price point he preferred.
Shea replied, “Buy the two cheaper active models so we can test them out. Let’s talk more on the passive.”
Pounder said he never purchased the GPS trackers. But he did buy other items at Shea’s request and said he often had to badger Shea for reimbursements.
Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, emailed Shea in May 2017, including an attachment of more than 60 pages of scanned newsletters and other documents related to water use and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“This packet is from a private meeting I went to and is full of valuable information on key federal operatives that are working collectively in the Northwest out of multiple locations,” Scott wrote. “Please take the time to review and learn some of the names and connections as I believe the information will be very valuable. This information is somewhat sensitive so please be careful who you choose to share it with.”
The packet included a biography of Elaine Willman, who has called for abolishing the sovereignty of Native American tribes and appeared with Shea at a “New Code of the West” conference in Whitefish, Montana, in October 2018.
Shea forwarded Scott’s message to Pounder, writing, “Ms. Willman is one of us. The rest need to be put on our list. We need to talk at your earliest convenience.”
By January 2017, Shea had developed suspicions about a new group of associates, and he sent Pounder a list of four names.
“Please get with Scout and add these names to the confirmed informants list,” Shea wrote.
Scout was a code name for one of Shea’s most trusted lieutenants, Anthony Bosworth, who’s known for bringing guns to the federal courthouse in Spokane and physically abusing his 17-year-old daughter in a videotaped public altercation in Yakima.
Pounder said there was never a thorough process for rooting out moles in Shea’s network. It was “mostly paranoid delusions” that landed people on the blacklist, he said.
In March 2017, Shea passed along a rambling message from an unnamed source that hinted at a grand conspiracy involving “the radical activists of CELDF” – the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
The message named, among others, Spokane City Council members Breean Beggs, Ben Stuckart and Lori Kinnear; Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer; and Jim Sheehan and Rick Eichstaedt of the Center for Justice law firm.
Shea told Pounder to add the contents of the message to their collection of research on political opponents.
“Please add to our intelligence,” Shea wrote.
On Saturday, Beggs said in an email: “It is disturbing to see a distorted picture of oneself on the enemies list of extremists, but sometimes (that) comes with the territory when publicly striving for justice.”
That they targeted environmentalists should come as no surprise.
In a fall 2017 group chat on the encrypted messaging app Signal, Pounder shared the address and contact information of an activist who had opposed a right-wing occupation of federal land in Nevada in 2014, and who was now pushing legislation to protect wolves in Washington. Bosworth suggested sending the activist the severed tail and testicles of a wolf from North Idaho.
Shea then chided Bosworth – not for the wolf-parts proposal, but for creating an electronic record of the conversation. Such things should be discussed face-to-face, Shea wrote.
That was the same chat in which Bosworth and Jack Robertson, who hosts a far-right radio show using the pseudonym John Jacob Schmidt, proposed acts of violence against liberal demonstrators and Shea offered to conduct background checks.
Robertson and Bosworth have said all mentions of violence were made as a “tongue-in-cheek” response to rumors of violence by leftist groups.
In August 2016, six months after the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon, Shea sent a message to Bosworth, Pounder and at least four others. In the subject box, he wrote, “A Talk With Neighbors.”
“John Mayo was indeed contacted by the FBI,” Shea wrote, apparently referring to another man’s pseudonym. “I dug deep on the web and came up with this document which lists all law enforcement in Washington. This will be helpful in the future to confirm or deny legitimacy.”
“Even though they acted extraordinarily unprofessional it traced back to the FBI,” Shea wrote, before referring to Marble, a religious community in northern Stevens County that has shaped his ideology. “This makes it very likely that Marble’s person was contacted as well.”
Pounder grew accustomed to using code words and euphemisms, just in case Big Brother scanned his emails for seditious language.
“I bought into this crap, you know?” he said, referring to the infectious nature of the paranoia that surrounded him. “I thought, ‘Well, what if someone is watching?’”
So, in July 2016, Pounder wrote an email inviting dozens of people to a “family picnic,” including Bosworth, Robertson and Barry and Anne Byrd, the leaders of the Marble community.
“Per our phone call last night,” Pounder wrote. “There will be a two day family gathering in Spokane on August 5th and 6th, this is a Friday and Saturday. We will send out location privately shortly before.”
He added that Shea’s team would help attendees secure their email accounts, to protect what he called “embarrassing family photos.”
“Saturday we will be building in some time to help everyone secure their personal devices with PGP encryption so we can ensure that all the ‘embarrassing family photos’ (are) hidden going forward,” he wrote.
Pounder said the meeting, which took place at an event center in Spokane Valley, was a sort of planning session for a “provisional government” that Shea and his supporters would establish in the event of a collapse. They spoke of assembling “committees of safety” and “committees of correspondence” – a reference to local shadow governments established by colonists during the American Revolution.
Pounder said their goal was to prepare for a future of instability, when they might seize control of the Inland Northwest and reshape society according to biblical law.
“They don’t want the United States. They don’t want the whole country. They want their homeland, this region,” Pounder said. “They want their patriot stronghold in the Pacific Northwest – their Redoubt.”
Pounder said he remains a staunch conservative, a devout Christian and a defender of the Second Amendment, but he wrestles with the role he played in Shea’s activities. He said he’s come to recognize the lawmaker as an extremist.
“There are times when I lose sleep because of it,” Pounder said. “And that’s part of the reason I work so hard to expose them now – because I worry that they could hurt someone.”
‘Turn back the tide’
At some point, Shea became acquainted with James “Russell” Bolton, who ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign to lead the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office in 2010. They were both military veterans who had similar views about the Constitution.
By March 2016, however, the two men did not see eye-to-eye. In an email to a woman he knew, Bolton wrote that a “100 million dollar Mosque opens in Maryland this week. Turkish President will be there with Obama and a host of Muslim Brotherhood officials to open there Islamic US HQ.”
“We are also learning of Muslim individuals buying up rural property, especially in the forest areas of Idaho as well as other locations in WA state,” Bolton continued.
Then he criticized Shea and Mike Fagan, the lone conservative member of the Spokane City Council, for not doing enough to stop the perceived invasion.
“If I were the folks in Spokane, I would call Mike Fagan and Matt Shea onto the carpet. Ask them, what’s the plan man?” Bolton wrote. “I just can’t believe we are going to set here like a bunch of sniveling cowards and let the evil ones rip our own turf to shreds.”
The woman forwarded Bolton’s message to Shea, who replied, “Russell Bolton is not taken seriously by many of us anymore, specifically because of emails like this.”
But Shea did not take issue with Bolton’s explicit Islamophobia. Instead, Shea boasted about his own record, noting that he had founded a chapter of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America and asserting that he had “banned the creation of Sharia Courts in Washington.”
Shea has made no secret of his disdain for Islam. Online, he routinely shares articles by John Guandolo, a disgraced former FBI agent who traffics in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. In his email, Shea said Bolton was wrong to criticize Fagan as well as Shahram Hadian, an Iranian American and former Muslim who now rails against the religion as a Christian pastor in Spokane.
“Mike has been doing a great job getting the word out,” Shea wrote. “Russell has also been critical of Shahram who has done more than anyone to educate the masses. My response to Russell would simply be for him to name one substantive thing he has done to turn back the tide?”
Since that exchange, Shea has won his fifth and sixth terms representing Washington’s 4th Legislative District, and Bolton has been arrested after a nationwide manhunt for allegedly extorting members of his own right-wing militia group. Through his attorney, Steve Graham, Bolton declined a request for an interview.
Fagan, who was copied on that email exchange, said he’s familiar with Bolton but doesn’t recall ever meeting him in person. Asked about his views on Islam, Fagan said he harbors no “ill will” but thinks it’s wrong that Muslim men and women pray separately. He didn’t criticize the views expressed in Shea’s email.
“Am I taking up arms and building bunkers and all that? No, no, I’m not,” Fagan said. “Do I know that Matt’s not doing that stuff? No, no, I don’t.”