Conservative Washington lawmaker strikes back at critics

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker from Washington is striking back at critics who say he should resign for appearing to support spying on political opponents.

The Guardian newspaper reported Saturday it had obtained the contents of chats from 2017 involving state Rep. Matt Shea and three other men proposing to confront leftists with a variety of tactics, including violence, surveillance and intimidation.

The report prompted Democrats on Monday to demand Republicans expel Shea from their caucus.

Shea, a lawyer who earlier declined to comment to The Associated Press, posted a statement on his personal Facebook page late Monday calling the story "an extremely misleading hit-piece."

In the chats, Shea appeared to offer to perform background checks on political opponents, and did not appear to disagree when others suggested violence.

"Of course I have done background checks to protect my family and my community, but that was only in response to threats already coming from the left," Shea said. "I will not back down. I will not quit. I will not give in. Ever."

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said Shea had crossed a line by participating in conversations that called for violence against those with dissenting opinions.

"To Governor Inslee, I do not take seriously an admonition against violence from someone who routinely fails to condemn Antifa acts of terrorism in this state and the barbaric rhetoric aimed at our President on the one hand, while supporting the systematic murder of babies in the womb on the other," Shea wrote.

"Instead, I call on the Governor to join me on the mission field in the future bringing peace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Ukraine, Argentina, and parts of Ethiopia as I did in November," Shea wrote.

While numerous Democrats called for Shea to be expelled from the GOP caucus, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox said Shea did not make any of the threats of violence in the group chat.

"The statements made by others in a text conversation with Representative Matt Shea were wrong and deeply upsetting," Wilcox said. "I take these statements seriously and condemn them with no reservation. My conversations with Matt and Leadership will continue."

The chats on the messaging app Signal took place in the days leading up to a supposed left-wing revolt in November 2017 that never occurred.

All of the men used screen aliases. The Guardian said it obtained the chats from an informant and confirmed the identity of those in the chat, including Shea, by cross-checking phone numbers attached to the Signal accounts.

Apart from violence, the men extensively discussed tactics of surveillance and intimidation, the story said. In response to a request in the chat for background checks on Spokane residents, Shea volunteered to help, going on to name three individuals, the newspaper reported.

"That's the stuff of dictatorships," state Democratic chair Tina Podlodowski said Tuesday.

Shea, who represents a deeply conservative district, has served in the state House since 2008, and has embraced far-right conspiracy theories, mingled with militia groups and visited right-wing activists who seized a wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016.

The military veteran attracted international attention in 2018 after a document he wrote laid out a "biblical basis for war" against people who practiced same-sex marriage and abortion and instructed: "If they do not yield, kill all males."

Shea lost some political donors and was stripped of his role as chair of the Republican caucus after that. But he has since introduced bills to criminalize abortion and roll back gun laws.

He has also pushed for eastern Washington to secede from the rest of the state and create a 51st state called Liberty.

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