he Washington state Republican Matt Shea was this week abandoned by donors, over a document he distributed which condemned abortion and same-sex marriage while outlining a “Biblical Basis for War”.
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Regarding opponents, the minority caucus chair in the Washington state house wrote: “If they do not yield – kill all males.”
Shea is seeking a fifth term as representative for district four, centred on the Spokane Valley. Amid rising concern over far-right invective, particularly over immigration, and its relevance to violent attacks such as the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last week, the case brought him to national attention. Now, new information has emerged about his beliefs and associations on the far right.
Shea’s oft-expressed belief that Muslims and leftists are organizing “counter-states” within the US appears to have been sourced from a conspiracy-minded seven-page memo by Rich Higgins, a national security council staffer in the Trump administration who was fired in July 2017 after the document became public.
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Shea has promoted versions of Higgins’ claim that “the hard left is aligned with Islamist organizations at local … national … and international levels”, and its claim of links between “‘deep state’ actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists and establishment Republicans”.
Higgins also alleges such groups believe that “for their visions to succeed, America … must be destroyed” and Donald Trump removed from office.
According to Higgins, the broader aims of this “cabal” include “population control”, administered by “certain business cartels in league with cultural Marxists/corporatists/Islamists who will leverage Islamic terrorism in order to justify the creation of a police state”, and the maintenance of a high level of immigration.
Higgins also wrote that beneficiaries of supposed subversive activities include “international banking”, a term often used as an antisemitic codeword. The “cultural Marxism” narrative that underpins the document, meanwhile, has been described as inherently antisemitic, due to its baseless allegations of a subversive conspiracy among Jewish intellectuals of the Frankfurt school, with the aim of bringing down western civilization.
The conspiratorial overtones of the Higgins memo resonate with recent concerns about far-right discourse in the US.
Far-right claims about immigration have come under greater scrutiny since similar beliefs were expressed by Cesar Sayoc – the suspect in the sending of pipe bombs to prominent Trump critics including Barack Obama, the Clintons and the financier George Soros – and by Robert Bowers, who is charged with killing 11 people and wounding six at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
The Higgins memo has been heavily promoted by groups like the John Birch Society (JBS), with which Shea has formed an apparent alliance.
Shea has hosted Alex Newman, a writer for the JBS magazine the New American, on his podcast. The two men shared a stage at last month’s New Code of the West conference in Whitefish, Montana, which also featured the leader of the 2016 Oregon wildlife refuge occupation, Ammon Bundy. Shea has promoted visits by Newman to the Spokane area. Newman has lauded Shea’s speeches.
Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016.
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Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP
At the New Code of the West conference, Shea recommended his listeners read the Higgins memo.
“There are two counter-states that have been established in America,” he began. “Rich Higgins’ memo … is a must-read for everyone. Rich Higgins’ memo is tremendous.”
He then explained his belief that far-left “antifa” groups were cooperating with Muslims in subverting the US government.
The Higgins memo has also been promoted by members of the so-called “American Redoubt” movement, which encourages religious conservatives to relocate to the Pacific north-west. On the 29 October episode of Radio Free Redoubt, the host, who broadcasts under the pseudonym John Jacob Schmidt, read the memo in full.
Shea contributes a pre-recorded weekly message to Radio Free Redoubt, which also broadcasts on ACN, a Christian radio network in eastern Washington state. Shea’s campaign expenditure records show four monthly payments to ACN of $1,250 each.
‘A theocratic state’
Following a Rolling Stone story, Spokane resident Tanner Rowe released the “Biblical Basis for War” document on his Facebook page. Rowe showed the Guardian a version of another document which he said came from a January meeting of the Liberty State movement, which aims to create a new state in eastern Washington.
Another local man, Ian Pickett, said he attended a rally in Colville at which Shea spoke in support of Liberty State. Pickett said flyers were handed out under the heading “Stevens County Property Rights Group”. The flyer contained a list of policies to be pursued in the notional 51st state, he said, among them “open public lands”, “no gay marriage” and “no legalized marijuana”.
Since drawing attention to the flyers on social media, Pickett has been characterized by Shea as “antifa”. He said he had received threatening texts from disguised phone numbers and had been criticised several times on Radio Free Redoubt.
Rowe said he worked on Shea’s security detail in 2016, but had not spoken to him since 2017. He said he was given the “Biblical Basis for War” document by someone who attended an American Redoubt-related event at a hotel in 2014. Shea has acknowledged that he wrote the document, though he has disputed the interpretation of it as a “battle plan for when the government collapses”.
Rowe described his own politics as “libertarian” and “constitutionalist” and said he and Shea “share some beliefs”. But he said he supported liberty for all: “If you want to buy a gun, go buy a gun. If you’re gay, go and get married.” Shea’s involvement in plans to carve a 51st state out of eastern Washington, he said, was motivated by his wish for “a theocratic state”.
Spokane county sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, a longtime Shea critic and a Republican, pointed to the politician’s links with the Marble community in Stevens county, north of Spokane.
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In a recent series of video podcasts, Knezovich alleged that Marble county was linked to the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. He also pointed to Shea’s relationship to the Coalition of Western States (Cows), a group of conservative legislators who involved themselves in the Malheur occupation in Oregon in January 2016.
Knezovich said Shea has been building a political machine. “They have a game plan of taking over local governments and they are steadily working towards that,” he said. He added: “Anyone who criticizes Matt Shea is immediately demonized, hounded and harassed.”
Asked if he thought Shea was a white supremacist, Knezovich said he could not say.
“But,” he added, “he does hang out with a whole bunch of people who are in that sphere.”
Shea’s opponent in Tuesday’s election, Ted Cummings, said that since the “Biblical Basis for War” document broke, donations had come in from around the US. The sums were not enormous, he said, but “the donations say that all across the country people are saying that we’re not letting hate take root”.
Over time, he added, “the campaign has shifted from issues like labor, jobs, and healthcare to Matt Shea’s fitness for office”.
Shea once called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people”. He did not respond to a request for comment.