An anti-choice organization in Washington state is standing by a lawmaker accused of participating in domestic terrorism and promoting a “holy war” against the federal government.
In December, an independent report commissioned by the Washington state House of Representatives concluded that state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) engaged in domestic terrorism, citing his involvement in planning Cliven Bundy’s 2014 standoff with federal agents, and armed protesters’ 2016 occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Both incidents involved right-wing groups whose members speak openly of violent revolt against the federal government.
Shea, who has held his seat since 2008, is one of the state legislature’s hardline abortion rights opponents. He’s the primary sponsor of the “Abolition of Abortion in Washington Act,” a 2019 bill that sought to define abortion as an act of homicide and called for state prosecutors and agencies to ignore any conflicting federal law or court order.
Even before the report was released, Shea was known for his extremist views and involvement with the anti-government Patriot movement. For years, he’s wanted Eastern Washington to secede into a new state called “Liberty,” where there would be no regulations on guns and vaccines. He founded a chapter of ACT For America in his district, and he funneled surplus campaign funds to Americans for America, both named anti-Muslim hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. His anti-government, anti-Muslim views have found a home in his district, part of a region near the Washington-Idaho border known as a hotbed of white supremacist activity.
When Shea introduced his anti-choice bill last year, he had already publicly aligned himself with the Malheur occupation—he demonstrated at the site and cofounded the Coalition of Western States, a group of far-right politicians that coordinated with the occupation. Shea’s “Biblical Basis for War” manifesto, which outlines justifications and strategy for a holy war against the government, had been leaked months earlier. Many of the independent investigators’ findings had already been reported by the Guardian, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and other journalists.
Yet Shea still managed to drum up three co-sponsors for the anti-choice legislation, all Republicans: Reps. Vicki Kraft of Olympia, Jesse Young of Gig Harbor, and Brad Klippert of Kennewick. None of the co-sponsors responded to a request for comment.
Human Life PAC, the political arm of Human Life of Washington (a state affiliate of National Right to Life), has endorsed Shea in every election since his first run in 2008. The organization, which gave Shea an award in 2019 for “pro-life heroism,” has stood by him despite the official report documenting his involvement in domestic terrorism.
“I understand he has a controversial target on him at this time,” Esther Ripplinger, the group’s executive director, told Rewire.News. “We do not make any assessments on any other issues than where the candidate may stand on the life issue.”
Realistically, Shea’s abortion bill wasn’t going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled legislature. The chair of the house health and wellness committee, Democrat Eileen Cody of Seattle, told the Columbia Basin Herald she wouldn’t hear the bill. (Cody declined to comment for this story.) Since the report was released, the house Republicans have kicked Shea out of the Republican caucus, with House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm) calling for his resignation. Shea has refused to resign.
But Shea’s involvement in extreme anti-choice efforts, from attending demonstrations with radical anti-abortion group Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue) to condemning abortion in his war doctrine, fits into a pattern at the intersection of fascism and reproductive control. Fascist organizations have seen the anti-choice movement as a fertile recruitment ground in recent years.
Shea’s “Biblical Basis for War,” a four-page document he insisted was a summary of sermons, outlines a guide for waging war against the government with a “Holy Army.” Surrender could be accepted “on terms of justice and righteousness”: No abortion, no same-sex marriage, and adherence to Biblical law. “If they do not yield,” Shea wrote, “kill all males.”
After it was leaked in October 2018, Shea claimed in a video posted to Facebook that the document does not advocate for mass murder, but rather a return to “just war theory.” But his connections to militia groups—and involvement in training young people for a so-called holy war—make his views more troubling.
The legislature’s investigation found connections between Shea and right-wing militia groups, particularly offshoots of the Three Percenters, a loosely organized movement advocating for gun rights and limited government intervention. Speaking at the Oath Keepers’ “Northwest Patriot and Self Reliance” rally in 2013, Shea warned of an “inevitable collapse” of the government, encouraging men to learn the “four S’s”—“get in shape,” “shoot,” “learn self-defense,” and “study small-unit tactics.”
Shea’s enthusiasm for militias is deeply connected to his faith: He’s a prominent member of the Marble Community Fellowship, an Eastern Washington church group that booked slavery-defending neo-Confederate pastor John Weaver to speak at its 2015 convention, at which Shea also spoke. In 2016 and 2017, according to the house report and Shea’s social media, the politician participated in Marble Community Fellowship’s “Team Rugged,” a program training young men in tactical skills, including the handling of AR-15 assault rifles, with the aim of teaching them to, as one participant said, “be effective in Christian warfare.”
In a 2016 email to Shea included in the independent report, a Team Rugged leader was clear about the program’s goal: “There will be scenarios where every participant will have to fight against one of the most barbaric enemies that are invading our country, Muslim terrorists.”
Even with no imminent plans for a violent overthrow, the on-the-ground training combined with Shea’s theories of holy war paint a disturbing picture. In the house report, witnesses detail an eight-page document titled “Restoration” that Shea presented alongside “Biblical Basis for War” at a private meeting. The document described a plan for replacing the U.S. government with a theocratic government that would repeal non-criminal laws, ban abortion and euthanasia, and punish murder (along with adultery and “sodomy”) by death.
With his legislation defining abortion as homicide, it’s not hard to connect some frightening dots—but for at least one anti-choice group, Shea’s more extreme views don’t seem to affect its support.
After taking Ripplinger’s statement, Rewire.News followed up with the Human Life head: Does this apply to Shea’s involvement in militia movements? She reiterated: “We only gather facts on where a candidate stands on the life issue.”
Shea is notorious for not speaking to the media, but in a brief phone call, I asked him whether he’s worried domestic terrorism allegations would hurt his anti-choice efforts. “Not really,” he said.
Then he hung up.