G.O.P. Lawmaker Had Visions of a Christian Alternative Government

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  ender  •  11 months ago  •  4 comments

By:   Mike Baker

G.O.P. Lawmaker Had Visions of a Christian Alternative Government
A Washington State legislator was accused of participating in the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge. Behind the scenes, he and right-wing activists were preparing for civil strife.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T




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(State Representative Matt Shea of Washington was accused of engaging in domestic terrorism in a report his colleagues commissioned. Credit... Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Matt Shea was 34 years old when he ran for the State Legislature in eastern Washington, but he had already established credentials that made him a promising Republican candidate.

A lawyer trained at Gonzaga University who had served a tour in Iraq with Washington’s Army National Guard, Mr. Shea pitched voters in 2008 on a platform of limiting taxes and punishing criminals, opposing same-sex marriage and supporting gun rights. He went on to win with nearly 60 percent of the vote, then moved up the ranks in the Legislature, reaching the powerful position of chair of his party’s caucus in 2017.

But back in his home district, Mr. Shea also began attracting the attention of law enforcement for his growing embrace of fringe ideologies and conspiracy theories. He networked with local militia groups, talked about plans to create a 51st state called Liberty and distributed to his closest followers a “Biblical Basis for War” document that calls for the “surrender” of those who favor abortion rights, same-sex marriage, “idolatry” and communism. “If they do not yield — kill all males,” it said.

Last week, a report commissioned by the State Legislature asserted that Mr. Shea had   engaged in domestic terrorism   in his support of the   armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge   by militant ranchers and their supporters in 2016 — part of a protest over federal ownership of public lands in the West.



The scrubby pines and sparsely settled hills of the inland Northwest have long been seen as a potential homeland by fringe white supremacists and armed loners who are militantly suspicious of government power. But for the sheriff here in Spokane County, Ozzie Knezovich, Mr. Shea’s activities are part of a troubling trend: Far-right organizers have begun plying their message of civil conflict in mainstream political circles, building new networks that include elected politicians and voters who would never consider themselves part of an extremist group.

“I think a lot of people underestimate the size and the growth of what’s going on,” said Sheriff Knezovich, a longtime Republican who supports President Trump.

The report prepared for the Legislature found that Mr. Shea had played a role in planning the Malheur standoff, which sought to challenge the federal government’s control and management of public lands. Leaders in the standoff were charged but acquitted of crimes related to the event, which resulted in   state troopers fatally shooting one participant .

But Mr. Shea and about two dozen of his trusted allies have quietly pursued ambitious plans that went far beyond the standoff at Malheur, preparing for what they saw as a fracturing United States.

They compiled manuals on everything from how to escape handcuffs to the operation of military weaponry and, according to the report to the legislators, laid the groundwork to form an alternative government that would be poised to take over after the expected fall of the United States government.

“He’s not about preserving America. They are about starting their own country,” said Sheriff Knezovich, who was concerned enough about Mr. Shea’s activities that he has gathered what he had found over the years and sent it to the F.B.I.

He said he had seen the appeal of conservative antigovernment philosophies like Mr. Shea’s grow around his part of the world; people who had not been part of fringe movements in the past started to show up for meetings and embrace his messages.

Mr. Shea did not respond to a request for an interview but has insisted he visited the instigators of the occupation only as a fact-finder, not as an organizer. Ammon Bundy, the Nevada rancher who led the Malheur occupation, also disputed that Mr. Shea played a role in organizing the event.

Mr. Shea called the state investigation a “coup” in a message to supporters. “The outcome of this report, like the President’s impeachment, was pre-ordained,” Mr. Shea   posted to Facebook on Saturday . “What they cannot not control is our response as Patriots & Christians.”

After a dinner gathering of far-right Christians in a remote corner of Washington State in June 2018, Mr. Shea and the online radio personality John Jacob Schmidt, whose real name is Jack Robertson, talked directly about a looming confrontation.

Mr. Robertson is a prominent voice in the “ American Redoubt ” movement, which seeks to establish the inland Northwest as a place for religious conservatives to live with like-minded people.

In the meeting, captured in an audio recording, they both described a divided country and warned about the dangers of left-wing agitators. Mr. Shea told the group that “liberty must be kept by force.” Mr. Robertson told attendees that he saw signs of a coming civil war and insisted that those in the room should have an AR-15 and a thousand rounds of ammunition ready.

“Defend for when the bad guy comes, right?” Mr. Robertson said, as the crowd gave affirmative feedback. “Are you ready for that? But the bad guy is already here. How many of you have pulled your trigger on your AR-15 in the fight we are in yet? Not one. But there is a fight. Right now. The war is here. The bad guy is here.”

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(Mr. Shea giving a speech in front of the flag for Liberty, a proposed 51st state made up of conservative counties east of the Cascades. Credit... Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)


‘No Saving You’


Shortly after Mr. Shea was elected in 2008, he began to slide toward more extremist ideologies than those he campaigned on, first aligning himself with fringe portions of the Tea Party movement and later going on to embrace conspiracy theories about the federal government.

Sheriff Knezovich said he approached Mr. Shea and tried to counsel him away from adopting increasingly antigovernment sentiments.

“My message was: ‘Matt, if you get involved in this stuff and get that label, there will be no saving you,’” the sheriff said.

But Mr. Shea became an increasingly important figure in those circles, regularly networking with activists and political leaders.

In 2014, Mr. Shea co-founded the Coalition of Western States, a group of conservative state lawmakers, sheriffs and others formed to counter what its advocates said was a “war on rural America” waged by an overreaching federal government.

More recently, Mr. Shea has advanced a political campaign to cleave Washington State in half, hoping to create a 51st state in the conservative counties east of the Cascades.

He found additional partners in groups such as Oath Keepers, which has claimed tens of thousands of members among current and former police officers and veterans around the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the organization as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today.”

In 2015, Mr. Shea and the leader of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes — who has been public about his concern over the growing divisions in the country — met as part of a larger group at a Spokane-area restaurant. After Mr. Trump used his Twitter account in recent months to suggest that his impeachment might trigger a civil war, the Oath Keepers posted on Twitter that the president’s reference to a civil war was “the truth.”

“This is where we are,”   the group wrote . “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859.”

‘This Is Not What Liberty Is’


Mr. Shea and his network have been readying for such a clash, though he has insisted that they have been discussing preparations to respond, not instigate. He has admitted preparing the “Biblical Basis for War” document but said it was a summary of church sermons on Old Testament war that could help place current events in historical context.

Jay Pounder, a former supporter and helper of Mr. Shea, said that in the summer of 2016, he was among about 30 of Mr. Shea’s closest allies who gathered in the Spokane area to discuss plans for how they would respond to what they believed was a coming civil war.

He said they discussed possible catalysts for such a conflict — immigration, economics, left-wing antifa protests. They planned which of the members would take control of geographical regions of the Northwest, Mr. Pounder said, and chose Mr. Shea to be the eventual leader of their overall government.

Mr. Pounder provided The New York Times with a variety of planning documents shared at the 2016 meeting laying out what actions should be taken in the event of a “collapse event” and describing a detailed structure of a makeshift government they would create.

The documents called for setting up sheriff’s posses, community kitchens, a “militia-based military” and communications carried out by ham radio operators. The planners called for “constitutional changes” to “sanctify to Jesus Christ” in the new government.

Mr. Pounder said the group also gathered military manuals on how to operate various weapons, such as an AT4 antitank weapon.

Mr. Pounder said he spent two years as a close ally of Mr. Shea but pulled away when he became convinced that Mr. Shea was not just a Christian conservative but was hoping to install a Christian government in the wake of civil strife that he almost seemed to welcome.

Among the other things that alarmed Mr. Pounder were conversations over encrypted messages,   made public this year   by The Guardian, in which some participants who were close allies of Mr. Shea talked about violent attacks on political opponents.

In the end, he took much of what he had learned working with Mr. Shea to the F.B.I.

“I’m deeply   sorry for moving this stuff along,” Mr. Pounder said. “I thought I was doing God’s will by being involved and helping Matt. This is not Christianity. This is not what liberty is.”

‘To Support Armed Insurrections’


The efforts by Mr. Pounder and Sheriff Knezovich to expose Mr. Shea ultimately led leaders in the Legislature to request an investigation.

In the report released last week, investigators found that Mr. Shea engaged in intimidation tactics against a political opponent as well as counterintelligence gathering. Much of the report focused on his role at the Malheur standoff, concluding that he had helped plan the event. It found that Mr. Shea “participated in an act of domestic terrorism.”

The report, prepared by a company led by a former F.B.I. agent, said investigators found that Mr. Shea went to both Malheur and an earlier standoff with federal authorities in Nevada “specifically to support armed insurrections at both locations in furtherance of his Patriot Movement agenda.”

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(Ammon Bundy at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Princeton, Ore., in 2016. He said last week that Mr. Shea did not help plan the takeover there. Credit... Jarod Opperman for The New York Times)

Mr. Bundy, one of the leaders in the Malheur standoff, disputed the findings of the report, saying in a text message on Saturday that Mr. Shea played no role in the planning of the takeover even though he supported the reasons for it. Mr. Bundy and others involved in the armed Malheur dispute   were acquitted   in 2016 of federal conspiracy and weapons charges related to the event challenging the federal government’s control and management of public lands.

In response to the report, J.T. Wilcox, the leader of Republicans in the State House, said Mr. Shea had been suspended from any role in the caucus. He also urged Mr. Shea to resign.





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Ender
1  seeder  Ender    11 months ago
Mr. Shea called the state investigation a “coup” in a message to supporters

Seems to be the conservative buzzword when caught.

 
 
 
livefreeordie
2  livefreeordie    11 months ago

As noted in the Declaration of Independence

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, ...

...But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

 
 
 
Dismayed Patriot
2.1  Dismayed Patriot  replied to  livefreeordie @2    11 months ago
it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it

Well, by that measure, all the liberals and progressives have every right to rise up and abolish any sort of Christo-fascist theocracy that tries to rear its ugly head in our country. Apparently, in your view, any American has the right to take up arms and attack the government if they don't feel the government is meeting their personal needs. Perhaps that's why we see so many religious conservatives stocking up on guns and ammo, prepping for they day when they believe they're going to have to just murder the "liberal, progressive, coastal, higher educated elites" they've been indoctrinated to hate so much so that the prophecies they'd been taught, of they and theirs inheriting the earth and all their enemies being destroyed, can come to fruition.

I've no doubt there are thousands of right wing conservatives in this country who are just praying for that day, when they feel they are given the green light to rise up together and conquer what they see as their land, their birthright, that has slowly become more diverse as the actual ideal of America, that of being a nation of immigrants, has made us. They dream about and often repeat Thomas Jefferson, what to them has become an obsessive mantra, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants!" with visions of all the people they hate as the "tyrants" and themselves as the "patriots". Liberals, progressives, gays, minorities, immigrants, 'feminists' and any women who support gender equality. They are the visions many of those who have become right wing extremists no doubt shared before they went on their murderous rampages.

I really hope they get help. I have no problems sharing my space and nation with conservatives of every stripe. While I disagree with some of the accepted exceptions society makes for religion like its tax exempt status, I don't really have a problem even with religious folk knocking on my door as long as they try to inject their religion into the schools, justice system or secular society making me pay taxes for religious trappings. Practice your faith, whatever it is, I don't care. Just don't discriminate against other tax paying, law abiding citizens regardless of your faith. If you're a Muslim who won't touch alcohol, you probably shouldn't work as a bartender or a liqueur store clerk. If you're Jewish and don't even want to touch pork, you probably shouldn't work at a pork processing plant. If you're a Jehovah's Witness, you might not want to work in an emergency room where you might be required to give someone a blood transfusion to save their lives. If you're a Buddhist who took a vow of silence, you might not want to apply at any telephone sales companies or, pretty much any job. I guess he'd be relegated to the job of 'park mime'. And if you have a problem selling cakes to gay people, then you might not want to be in the cake sales business. 

These folk above, and many religious conservatives I've talked with, including many in my own family, believe they are just waiting for the day when it will all be theirs. They truly believe the day will come where their God comes, wipes out all those they disagree with and who are of other faiths and humanity either conforms or dies, and then all will be right with the world, till they die and go up to Jesus. It's why i's so hard to get religious conservatives to compromise, they aren't working towards the same goals as everyone else. They have their "secret" faith goal, which isn't very secret, but they wink and nudge about it anyway. And when confronted with it they always retreat to the "Well it's not MY wish, but Gods, I'm merely hoping for his will to be done, here on earth, as it is in heaven...", smirk...

I really do wish that someday, they will see that by working together for common goals here and now, and not hoping for an Armageddon to just come and wipe out all their problems so they don't have to invest in any other future (too lazy perhaps?) could actually fix many of the problems they've been complaining about. We all want safer schools, safe neighborhoods, good jobs, quality education, access to affordable health care, a strong military, a working fair immigration policy and strong border security and even reliable, inexhaustible renewable energy sources that don't continue to harm our planet. Working together we could achieve these goals, but it seems as if one side is just too invested in their lazy belief that "their" God will come and rescue them from climate change, their enemies, people who they think are "gross", and anyone else who doesn't share their faith. How exactly do you even begin a dialog with such folk? I try with my family and they just sneer and throw insults, much like many on the right seem to instantly retreat to when coming into contact with an opposing view.

 
 
 
lady in black
3  lady in black    11 months ago

Ripped from the pages of the Handmaid's tale, A religion-based autocracy has taken over most of the United States, renaming the country Gilead....take over the government and kill/enslave people that aren't religious zealots.  Gotta love it.   And you wonder why christians get a bad rap.

 
 
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