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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Jayne: Talk of E. Washington secession has dark underside

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: November 18, 2018, 6:02am

It used to seem rather harmless and slightly silly. Somebody in the Legislature would introduce a bill for Eastern Washington to secede from Western Washington, everybody would chuckle a bit, the Legislature would ignore it, and it soon would be forgotten.

But somewhere along the line, this dream from a handful of activists went from harmless and silly to rather menacing and slightly scary. So it piqued my interest when, shortly after the midterm election, this appeared in the email: “Following passage of I-1639 it has become clear to me that now, more than before, Eastern Washington MUST separate from Western Washington. This means forming a new state ‘Liberty.’ ”

That apparently was sent by Jim Lydigsen, and a quick search reveals that he is among the “Frontline Activist Leaders for Washington” for the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund. Nothing wrong with that. The NRA lobbies for its political views, and those views on gun-control measure I-1639 were rejected by 60 percent of Washington voters. You win some, you lose some.

But the interesting thing is how activists have seized upon that vote to invigorate their push for a 51st state, with Washington being divided at the Cascade Range.

Certainly, there are cultural, economic and geographical differences between Western Washington and Eastern Washington. And so supporters of the State of Liberty would rather go their merry way, free from the influence of and, in their minds, condescension from the state’s liberal enclave.

Nothing wrong with that, either. Until you recognize what is really driving the issue.

‘Biblical Basis for War’

You see, the primary secession supporter in the Legislature is Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who just won a sixth term as representative of the 4th Legislative District, which runs from east of Spokane to the Idaho border. And days before the election, it was revealed that Shea has distributed a manifesto called “Biblical Basis for War.”

Among the gems in this treatise are “God is a Warrior”; “War is a fact of life”; “Make an offer of Peace before declaring war” and then “If they do not yield — kill all males”; “Assassination to remove tyrants is just, not murder”; and “Freedom is in Jesus Christ. Where the Spirit of God is, there is Liberty.” Basically, it is Sharia law with a Christian bent.

All of which suggests there is more than gun rights and economic concerns behind this push for a new state. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich explained in an email to The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review: “The goal of these groups has always been to create a white homeland consisting of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The ideas presented in the document are how these groups intend to seize control, by force, should there be a governmental collapse or civil war.”

There is nothing new about a proposal to split Washington in two; it has been introduced in the Legislature several times dating back to 1915. And it is easy to see why people in Eastern Washington feel disenfranchised; the 20 counties that would make up Liberty combine for roughly two-thirds the population of King County alone, giving that part of the state little political power. As Shea wrote on his legislative page last year, “voters and elected officials from the Puget Sound region continue to run roughshod over their Eastern Washington brethren.”

Yet the seemingly benign effort at secession has moved to something more nefarious, driven by extremist ideology. Shea, according to a recent profile in Rolling Stone, believes the Oklahoma City bombing was an inside job and recently spoke at a conference where attendees listened to “experts” describe the “Deep State.” His response to that, according to the “Biblical Basis for War,” is to suggest that “God is with us and the battle is His.”

Which calls to mind a quote that is typically attributed — wrongly — to Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”