SPOKANE — At a rally in Coeur d’Alene that featured many prominent figures in the far-right “patriot” movement, outgoing Washington state Rep. Matt Shea vowed to continue pushing for the creation of a 51st state called Liberty, separate from Seattle and the rest of Western Washington.
“We want to put it on the ballot for this November in every county in Eastern Washington,” Shea said to applause Saturday. “And I’m going to say this today: How about every county in North Idaho north of the Salmon River?”
The Spokane Valley lawmaker, who did not file for reelection this year after House Republican leaders ousted him from their caucus, spoke at an event dubbed “Liberate America” that drew several hundred people to the Kootenai County Fairgrounds despite chilly, rainy weather.
Many attendees donned camouflage and openly carried pistols, but few, if any, wore face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some carried radios and military-style rifles. There was no organized counterprotest.
“I want to thank the militias for guarding this event,” said one speaker, Afshin Yaghtin, a local pastor who was arrested a year ago after protesting a Drag Queen Story Hour event at the South Hill branch of the Spokane Public Library.
Also on the lineup were Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; Ammon Bundy, the rancher whose family has led armed standoffs against federal agents in Oregon and Nevada; and Joey Gibson, who leads a far-right group called Patriot Prayer that’s known for provoking fights at public demonstrations in Portland.
Around the stage were booths for various businesses and far-right organizations. A booth for the John Birch Society declared COVID-19 a “tool of red China and socio-globalist left.” A sign outside an auction booth advertised a “military-style mobile communication building” with an asking price of $16,000.
Another booth had hundreds of pistols on display. Another represented the Spokane chapter of the Proud Boys. Like Gibson’s group, members of the Proud Boys are known for picking street fights with leftists in Portland and other cities.
COVID-19 restrictions and the ongoing unrest over police brutality and racial injustice were frequent topics of discussion at Saturday’s event. Much of the messaging was plainly anti-government.
The crowd cheered when one speaker, Scott Herndon, suggested recalling Republican Gov. Brad Little. Many at the rally protested the governor’s orders restricting gatherings and business activity to slow the spread of the virus.
“Tyrants must be opposed, not appeased,” said Herndon, a onetime candidate for the Idaho state Senate.
“Actually, the COVID-19 has been wonderful for us because it’s given us the opportunity to tell government, ‘We don’t need you,’” said Caleb Collier, a former Spokane Valley city councilman.
“Resist. Defy. It is your God-given right. It is your God-given duty and responsibility,” said Yaghtin, the local pastor. “Say no to forced vaccinations. Say no to contact tracing. Say no to forced isolation and quarantine.”
Some used the stage to call for more Christians in government. Some denounced vaccines and even the animal-rights movement.
“It’s not just about taking away our guns,” said newly elected Montana state Rep. Theresa Manzella. “They want to give animals equal or greater rights than human beings.”
Shea, who was first elected 12 years ago, will finish his last term in the Washington Legislature in December. The House GOP caucus expelled him after an independent investigation into his activities, including his involvement in the 2016 armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge, led by the Bundy family. Investigators found his involvement amounted to domestic terrorism.
Shea is taking on a new role as a pastor at Covenant Church in Spokane Valley. The outgoing leader of that church, Ken Peters, has also led religious services protesting abortion outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane.
Lori Feagan, a Democrat and nurse practitioner, and former Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase are running for Shea’s seat.