A Washington state Republican politician took part in private discussions with rightwing figures about carrying out surveillance, “psyops” and even violent attacks on perceived political enemies, according to chat records obtained by the Guardian.
State representative Matt Shea, who represents Spokane Valley in the Washington state house, participated in the chats with three other men. All of the men used screen aliases – Shea’s was “Verum Bellator”, Latin for true warrior. The Guardian confirmed the identity of those in the chat by cross-checking phone numbers attached to the Signal accounts.
The group included Jack Robertson, who broadcasts a far-right radio show, Radio Free Redoubt, under the alias “John Jacob Schmidt”. The chat also included Anthony Bosworth, whose history includes a public altercation with his own daughter and bringing guns to a court house. Bosworth participated in the 2016 occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge, reportedly at Shea’s request.
The name of another participant, who provided the chat records to the Guardian, has been withheld due to concerns about personal safety.
The chats on the messaging app Signal took place in the days leading up to a supposed “Antifa revolt” on 4 November 2017. Throughout late October, far-right media outlets had been stoking fears of political conflict on the basis of planned peaceful protests by a small leftist group.
The men proposed to confront leftists – whom they repeatedly refer to as “communists” and “Antifa” – with a suite of tactics, including violence.
Other acts of extreme violence were also suggested. When a specific female Spokane resident was nominated for surveillance in the chat group, Robertson suggested:
Apart from violence, the men extensively discussed tactics of surveillance and intimidation.
Shea, the elected Republican legislator, did not demur from any of these suggestions. He also appeared willing to participate directly in surveillance of activists.
In response to a request in the chat for background checks on Spokane residents, Shea volunteered to help, going on to name three individuals – including an organizer for the liberal group Indivisible, and a college professor.
The men talked about the broad outlines of what they appeared to consider to be a looming civil war. They also discussed using symbols from what they understood to be Russian anti-communist groups as a way of spreading paranoia among their adversaries.
The group talked about making stickers and cards using skull and crossbones images from post-revolutionary Russian nationalist groups. After posting an image of a white army soldier holding such a banner, Bosworth remarked:
When the leftist revolt failed to materialize, Shea did not rethink his conspiratorial views and instead blamed the weather.
Shea, a six-term legislator and military veteran, came to international attention in 2018 after a document he authored surfaced laying out a “biblical basis for war”, which appeared to be a plan for an apocalyptic battle with people who practiced “same sex marriage” and “abortion”, and instructed: “If they do not yield, kill all males.”
Shea denied that the document meant what it appeared to say.
At that time, Shea lost donors, and he was stripped of his role as chair of the Republican caucus – though he was serving in this position at the time of the leaked chat.
But Shea has since regrouped, introducing bills to criminalize abortion and roll back gun laws, which other Republicans in Washington have supported. He has also continued pushing a plan for eastern Washington to secede and reconstitute as Liberty State. Robertson has also been a key architect of this campaign, and he and Shea have been regular guests on each other’s broadcasts.
Shea has long promoted conspiratorial views about the cooperation of leftists and Muslims in creating “counter-states” in the US. He has associated with conspiracy-minded far-right groups, and later this month will emcee a dinner for the anti-communist John Birch society in Couer D’Alene, Idaho.
In a telephone conversation with the Guardian, Robertson said: “I remember a discussion in response to Indivisible and Antifa groups that were planning to take to the streets,” but “I don’t recall the details”.
He denied surveilling his political opponents, but added: “If someone is in my community and they are threatening violence, I want to know more about them. That just makes sense.”
He also claimed that the apparent threats of violence were not authentic.
“A lot of people in private conversations say things tongue in cheek about what they would like to see happen to these people, but that is not setting a policy or establishing a protocol for people to carry things out.”
Some of Shea’s most prominent critics have been political conservatives. Spokane county’s Republican sheriff, Ozzie Knezovich, has repeatedly criticized Shea’s far-right ties.
“It’s part and parcel of what this group has been saying for years. I think if a state representative is condoning violence against his constituents then that person needs to be removed from office, and I hope the voters will do that at the next election.
“Matt Shea is a poor representative for the Republican party. Extremism on both sides is tearing this country apart,” Knezovich added.
Asked if the people around Shea were dangerous, Knezovich said: “Yes.”
The Western States Center, a progressive organization, has also previously criticized Shea. Its executive director, Eric Ward, said via email: “The violent extremism that Representative Matt Shea espouses is a clear threat to our democratic institutions and has no place in mainstream political discourse.
“We call on Washington State Republican Party leaders to censure Representative Shea if these allegations are true.”
Shea did not respond to a request for comment.
After the Guardian contacted Robertson and Shea for comment Robertson spoke on Thursday night on the Spokane Christian radio station on which he and Shea broadcast weekly programs.
In a rambling broadcast, Robertson confirmed the existence of the chats, called the Guardian a “propagandist”, read biblical accounts of war and followed with: “If it comes time for war and it’s forced upon you, do you not want a leader who is going to surround himself with warriors? I do.
“There was talk about doing surveillance on some of these Antifa people. Not surveillance but just start copying and pasting their comments, keeping track of who’s who, keep track of where they live, where they work, but that never came to fruition,” he added.