Wednesday, December 25, 2019
ALT-AMERICA: In the shadow of the impeachment of President Donald Trump last week, the Washington State House of Representatives issued an impeachment of a different sort—releasing an independent investigation of Rep. Matt Shea that found the Spokane Valley Republican “participated in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” by helping plan the armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon three years ago.
The armed takeover of the wildlife refuge lasted 41 days, and led to law enforcement agents shooting and killing one armed insurrectionist rancher.
The investigation also found that Shea played a similar role in two other armed conflicts against the U.S. government—not only by showing up and participating in the standoffs, but also by helping to plan them, which involved recruiting armed militia members to oppose federal law enforcement agents.
The 108-page report includes other serious findings against Shea, including Patriot activities where he “condoned violence and intimidation” of his political opponents, and offered to conduct background checks on them. The four-month investigation was led by a former FBI agent and former law enforcement officer.
According to the investigators’ report, a manifesto Shea authored, a “Biblical Basis for War,” proposed replacing the United States government with a with a white Christian theocracy and killing those who would not submit to that regime.
House Republicans were briefed on the report, and moved quickly to tie off the damage, suspending Shea from any role in the House Republican Caucus. He cannot use House Republican staff, he cannot meet with the caucus and Shea’s name and picture were removed from the House GOP website.
“Allegations this serious, many supported by his own communications and associates, justify this immediate action,” House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox noted in a statement.
Shea himself vowed to fight on.
“I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign. Stand strong fellow Patriots,” Shea wrote to followers on social media.
In tones that echo in the halls of the nation’s capitol, Shea did not cooperate with the investigation; after its release he claimed the report was compromised because it did not include interviews with him.
The report defines “political violence” as hostile, antagonistic acts related to public affairs that are carried out with the intent to exert power or pressure to hurt, damage or kill in order to forcefully achieve a political goal. The report found Shea planned and encouraged such violence routinely—and indeed his support network indicates a spectrum of likeminded behavior across the state.
Shea’s pedigree in Whatcom County is an extensive and involved one, frequently working in partnership with local elected Republican leaders and Tea Party activists through the instrument of ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a closed organization of state legislators who push fringe principles of limited government, carrying extreme legislation enacted from one state into another and thereby pushing the public dialogue further into the realm of the radical far-Right.
“The Patriot movement,” the report authors note, “is a collection of conservative, independent, mostly rural, small government American nationalist social movements in the United States that include organized militia, tax protestors, sovereign citizens, quasi-Christian apocalypticists and survivalists, and combinations thereof.” The definition is practically a litany of fringe alt-right groups in Whatcom County, organized around property rights.
“Rightwing populism in America,” writes Seattle journalist Dave Neiwart, “has always been predicated on a narrative known as ‘producerism,’ in which the hard-working ‘producers’ in America are beset by a two-headed enemy: a nefarious elite suppressing them from above, and a parasitic underclass of ‘others,’ reliant on welfare and government benefits, tearing them down and sucking them under from below. Rightwing populism,” Neiwart notes, “has most often been expressed via various nativist and anti-immigrant movements.” In the Pacific Northwest, this narrative finds expression through the virulent anti-Indian movement.
“The key to understanding people who have been drawn into the Alt-America universe is the role that the hero myth plays in framing their worldview,” Neiwart notes. “Dedicated Patriots and white nationalists, just like the hate criminals they inspire, genuinely envision themselves as heroes. They are saving the country, or perhaps the white race, or perhaps just their local community. And so anything, anything they might do in that act of defense is excusable, even laudable.”
Understanding the movement is one step to disarming the movement, but we must also recognize the movement is asymmetrical and without a counterpart or analog on our social-political spectrum. The Left has its own mechanisms of command and control, but those operate in a much wider and more open sphere of facts, logic and reason.
Ironically, it is a year since an imminent report on his conduct drove Democrat Kevin Ranker to resign his senate seat as a representative of the 40th Legislative District. Representative Shea will not be so easy to dislodge. His forced removal would require a two-thirds majority vote of House members, an unlikely event that has happened only once in the history of Washington’s Legislature. In parallels that echo the national dialogue, only voters hold the ultimate power to remove a unrepentant scoundrel from office.