Two weeks after Rolling Stone published a longform profile of far-right Eastern Washington state Rep. Matt Shea — a conspiracy theory-obsessed, militia-supporting Republican from Spokane Valley — the longtime state representative won his bid for a sixth term Tuesday night.
“I lost to a fascist — what can I say?” Democrat Ted Cummings, who was challenging Shea, told Rolling Stone when reached by phone Tuesday night.
Shea did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment, but he did post a short update on his Facebook page. “Victory!” Shea wrote, alongside a photo with his family, posing in front of the American and Israeli flags. “I will continue to fight for lower taxes, less government, and more freedom!”
Shea — who has been in office since 2008 — had long been known in the Inland Northwest for his fringe ideas and actions: His attendance at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover, his complete avoidance of media and branding reporters “dirty, godless, hateful people,” his crowning of a man who tried to bring an AK-47 into a federal courthouse “Patriot of the Year,” his speeches at John Birch Society events.
Just days after Rolling Stone published its October story, news of Shea’s beliefs exploded around the world — particularly after he acknowledged distributing a document titled “Biblical Basis for War” that was leaked online. A story in The Spokesman-Review says the document’s metadata credits Shea for authoring the document — something that can be easily changed or forged. But instead of distancing himself from the manifesto, Shea took credit for it. The local Republican sheriff said he gave the document to the FBI.
“We received the request from the Sheriff’s office to review the documents,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The FBI is considering the facts to determine if there is the possibility of a federal criminal violation. A review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation.”
In a 13-minute Facebook video, Shea railed against the Rolling Stone story, saying RS wrote 8,000 words about him (it was 4,003 words) and decrying the “massive leftist spin on things,” in his view of the piece. “This is part of something called a Maoist Insurgency Model, and this is called political warfare.”(A Google search of “Maoist Insurgency Model” finds it to be a conspiracy theory, one that actually got a guy fired from the Trump Administration.)
In the video, Shea acknowledged distributing the document, which details “rules of war” — a war that would seem to occur if “terms of justice and righteousness” are not followed, specifically the halt of abortions, same-sex marriage, communism and an adherence to “biblical law.”
“It was a summary of a series of sermons on Biblical War in the Old Testament as a part of a larger discussion on the history of warfare,” Shea said. “We need to get back to Just War Theory. This document in and of itself was not a secret. I’ve actually talked about portions of this document publicly.”
Experts on Just War Theory at Gonzaga University — where Shea received his law degree — say Shea’s document is unrecognizable through a Just War lens, and more akin to something called “Total War,” says Shannon Dunne, a professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga.
“Just War is a lot about putting constraints on war and regulating violence, as opposed to giving license to violence, which I think is what Matt Shea’s position is,” Dunne says. “A lot of religious extremists are using the terms of total war these days… which is what we used to call holy war. You fight to win and obliterate your enemy — that’s not just war language at all.”
A document about a biblical war, to locals, might have seemed like another kooky chapter in Shea’s history. But as Shea made headlines outside of his home district, longtime donors to his campaign started issuing requests for a refund: By last Friday, five major donors — including public utility company Avista, BNSF Railway and AT&T — publicly asked for Shea to return donations totaling about $8,000.
If those companies had actually tracked where their money had been going all these years, Shea’s document might not have caught them by surprise: Since July, Shea has spent more money on paying American Christian Network (ACN) to broadcast his podcast, Patriot Radio, than any other expense.
Patriot Radio — “broadcasting live from the capital of free Washington: Spokane Valley!” — is a window into Shea’s psyche. Over the past few months, the weekly program has shown Shea hosting an Agenda 21 conspiracy theorist “expert”, anti-vaxxers and members of the John Birch Society’s leadership.
“When is war just? When should we defend ourselves?” Shea asked his guest. “This really gets at the heart of attacks on the Second Amendment right now. I really don’t divorce the two.”
“Naturally, every tyranny, or every oppressor, has preceded its efforts by disarming its citizenry,” Schmidt agreed.
That night, just two days before the election, the men talked about a war on Christianity. They discussed conspiracy theories about George Soros. They said the counter-states are closing in. They talked about violence coming from the left, but made no mention of the string of pipe bombs sent to Democrats or the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
(On Tuesday night, Washington voters also approved a gun control package Shea and others rallied against in August — laws that will raise the age to purchase semi-automatic weapons to 21, require enhanced background checks, a 10-day waiting period, among other measures.)
“We’re praying for peace, but we’d be foolish if we didn’t begin preparing for war,” Schmidt said. “Based on history, the indicators of the trajectory they set us on, we have a choice: we have to submit or fight.”
“That’s right,” Shea agreed. “That’s where they want to push this.”
Cummings, Shea’s opponent, tells Rolling Stone he thinks people in his district are having a hard time believing what’s been reported on Shea. “They think this nice Christian man is being smeared by the media,” he says. “I’m not going to let my home be a haven for hate and white nationalists.”
“I’m going to run again and I’m going to try twice as hard, and I’m not going to ever stop until he’s a private citizen back in his basement worried about aliens,” Cummings says. “He’s just batshit crazy. I’m not going to be polite, and I’m not going to sugar-coat it. He’s a coward and a bully and an embarrassment — and I hope you put that in print.”