Report on controversial Washington lawmaker set for delivery Monday

Matt Shea

SPOKANE — As Spokane Valley state Rep. Matt Shea continues to make national headlines for his controversial positions, an independent investigation into whether he promoted political violence is scheduled to be presented to lawmakers on Monday and be released to the public in the coming weeks.

The investigation was ordered this spring by a five-member committee, composed of three Democrats and two Republicans, that sets administrative policies for the state House of Representatives. That committee also will be the first to be briefed on the report when it arrives Monday, and will determine when it will be released to the public, House Chief Clerk Bernard Dean said.

During the most recent legislative session, a 2017 text chat was leaked by a former Shea confidant that included the six-term Republican and others suggesting confronting political opponents, “hoisting communists up flagpoles” and slamming a person’s face into a traffic barrier. Shea did not explicitly advocate political violence in the leaked portions of the chat, though he did offer to perform background checks on political opponents.

Shea has ties to the Marble religious compound in Stevens County, where he told a crowd last year that “Liberty must be kept by force.” He has acknowledged he distributed a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War” and has faced criticism for supporting a group that claimed to prepare boys and young men for “biblical” warfare.

Shea’s district includes Spokane Valley, where voters recently rejected two Shea-backed city council candidates in favor of a moderate incumbent as well a challenger who previously ran for office as a Democrat. Shea also represents Liberty Lake, Newman Lake, Millwood and Green Bluff, as well as unincorporated areas of Spokane County.

Some prominent Spokane-area Republicans have spoken out against Shea, including Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite. Others have declined to take a stand until the investigation is released or, as in the case of current Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins, have said Shea’s comments were taken out of context.

Higgins recently told the Los Angeles Times that he was surprised Rodney King, the man whose beating at the hands of Los Angeles police sparked riots in the city in 1992, wasn’t shot by police.

During a meeting of the libertarian group Northwest Grassroots earlier this month, Higgins was quoted as saying the shooting of King would have been justified because he was “higher than a kite,” according to the L.A. Times story.

Higgins said the Times story mischaracterized his comments. He said he was comparing King’s situation with Shea’s. The chats that included Shea, he argued, only captured a small portion of what was happening, and the video of King did not show what happened before the video was taken.

“I think a lot of those things were taken out of context,” Higgins said.

Higgins also argued that the Marble settlement in Stevens County, which he has visited, is merely a self-sufficient religious community.

“It’s not what it’s painted to be,” he said.

The Marble Community Fellowship practices a form of fundamentalist Christianity known as dominionism, the idea that Christians have a God-given right to govern. It is led by Barry and Anne Byrd, leading figures in the racist Christian Identity movement of the 1980s and ’90s who have since tried to distance themselves from racist ideology.

Higgins said he may not trust the results of the independent investigation into Shea, saying it could turn out like the Mueller report and be used against Shea even if investigators don’t find wrongdoing.

The report by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, details instances when President Donald Trump may have obstructed justice but also said charges were not considered because of a legal opinion that suggests the Department of Justice can’t indict a sitting president, according to news reports.

“Let’s see what the investigation says and how it says it,” Higgins said. “Even if he’s found innocent, I suspect the spin will be that he did something wrong.”

The independent inquiry into Shea’s activity was conducted by the Rampart Group, a private firm headed by a former FBI agent. The report originally was scheduled to be released earlier this fall.

Dean, the chief House clerk, said he did not know if the entire document would be released to the public, or only an executive summary. Before materials can be released, House leaders will need to determine if identifying information about witnesses needs to be redacted, Dean said.

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