<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Thursday,  July 18 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Northwest

Spokane mayor faces condemnation after appearing on stage with Matt Shea at Christian nationalist event

By Emry Dinman, The Spokesman-Review
Published: August 23, 2023, 8:16am

SPOKANE — Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward is facing calls for her resignation after she appeared on stage Sunday night and received a blessing and endorsement from former state Rep. Matt Shea, a controversial figure and religious extremist.

It came as smoke from fires in Medical Lake, Elk and elsewhere shrouded the city. Woodward and City Council candidate Earl Moore joined Shea on stage at the Podium during Sunday’s stop on the Kingdom to the Capitol tour. The religious and conservative political series was organized by self-declared Christian nationalist Sean Feucht and his organization Let Us Worship, as well as Turning Point USA Faith, a recent offshoot of the broader organization founded by right-wing political activist Charlie Kirk.

Placing a hand on Woodward, Shea called on the crowd to join him in prayer as the mayor extended her hands forward.

“I want you to extend your hands right now,” Shea said. “Because we’ve got an enemy we need to fight, and his name is Satan.”

In 2016, Shea led a group of lawmakers to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where Ammon Bundy and other armed protesters were involved in a standoff with federal officials. Shea said they made the trip to help negotiate a peaceful resolution to the standoff; local officials said they had asked the legislators to stay away.

In a statement Monday afternoon through the Woodward re-election campaign, the mayor wrote she was not aware that Shea would be at the event or leading her and the crowd in prayer, and that she did not seek or accept Shea’s support.

“I am opposed to his political views as they are a threat to our democracy, and I regret my public appearance with him,” she wrote. “I was invited to share in prayer with several thousand citizens out of heartfelt concern for fire victims, first responders and our whole community.”

“I was not aware that he would be at the event last night and it only became apparent as I was walking on stage that he would be leading the prayer,” Woodward continued. “I should have made better efforts to learn who would be speaking at the event.”

The Woodward campaign, which originally suggested Woodward would be available for an interview, did not immediately respond to clarify whether an interview would still occur. Shea did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, Shea took to Twitter on Monday evening to dispute Woodward’s characterization of events.

“This is an annual event planned months ago to worship Jesus,” Shea wrote. “It wasn’t for ‘fire victims.’ She was invited and she accepted BEFORE the first started on Friday.”

“She is the one that politicized what everyone knows was a worship event,” he added. “We are praying for Nadine.”

Morning Briefing Newsletter envelope icon
Get a rundown of the latest local and regional news every Mon-Fri morning.

Moore initially declined an interview, saying only that she was a “prayer warrior,” and that she did not know Shea would be in attendance. In a text shortly before 2 p.m., Moore added that she was invited by a personal friend.

“I was not standing on a platform of any individual, but there to pray for my city and for unity,” Moore wrote. “I stand strong against hatred of any kind.”

Feucht, who ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for Congress in Northern California as a Republican against Democratic incumbent John Garamendi, is best known for holding outdoor concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic. He held these as a form of protest in response to mask mandates and other pandemic-related restrictions.

Former City Council President Ben Stuckart, who ran for mayor and lost to Woodward in 2019, cursed repeatedly as he responded to Woodward’s assertion that she was not aware Shea would be at the event and rejected that Woodward attended to pray for the victims of the region’s ongoing fires. It was well known that Shea would be in attendance, and the views of Feucht alone should have been enough for the mayor to stay away, Stuckart said.

“It’s just so disgusting,” Stuckart said. “If a Christian white nationalist asks you to stand up on stage and be prayed for, you say … ‘No,’ and you leave the room the moment you figure out that person is there.”

“You don’t go to white Christian nationalist events, put on by Christian nationalists and not expect the Christian nationalists to be there,” he said.

Stuckart called on Woodward to resign, saying she had irreparably damaged her legitimacy and sent a dangerous message to vulnerable and marginalized residents.

Woodward’s opponent in this year’s race for mayor, Lisa Brown, did not echo Stuckart’s calls for Woodward’s resignation, but she did condemn the association and called on voters to take note.

“It’s not just, here’s a difference in policy perspectives,” Brown said. “Shea is calling for armed insurrection with people who have a different perspective than he does — it’s inexcusable to be associated with him in any way at any time.”

Brown said she struggled to believe that Woodward was not aware of the nature of the event she was attending, noting that it had been planned for months in advance and that Woodward embraced Shea as she left the stage.

“I think one would have to be very much out of touch to not understand what was actually happening at the time it was happening,” Brown said. “That is beyond my belief, that she didn’t know what was going on.”

Kitty Klitzke, who faces Moore this November in the race to represent northwest Spokane on the City Council, called Moore’s attendance inappropriate.

“If you’re engaged with this community, you know when you’re showing up to an event with Matt Shea,” Klitzke said.

She noted that Moore has often declined to take a position on policy issues prior to the August primary.

“This is evidence of what someone who refuses to have a position on things will do,” Klitzke said.

Woodward had returned to Spokane on Saturday, cutting short an anniversary celebration with her husband, due to the region’s fires that have displaced thousands, she wrote on Twitter.

Hours after photos and video were publicized showing her on stage Sunday evening, she began posting on social media around 11 p.m. about her activities earlier in the day, showing she had visited fire crews and a Red Cross shelter at Spokane Falls Community College.

“All day yesterday not one fire victim or first responder asked me about my political views,” Woodward wrote in her Monday afternoon statement. “But, they did ask us to pray for them.”

Shea’s history

An attorney first elected in 2008 in Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District, Shea was among the state House of Representatives’ most conservative legislators and a member of the Liberty Caucus, which backed what it called a “Freedom Agenda” that included calls for the federal government to turn over land to the states.

He also repeatedly sponsored bills to split Washington state in two at the crest of the Cascades, forming a separate state called Liberty in the eastern half. Although Shea predicted it would be the 51st state, the proposal never got a hearing in the Legislature.

In 2019, a former ally leaked emails in which Shea seemed to be calling for a holy war that would pit conservative Christian “patriots” against Muslims and Marxist “terrorists.” Shea insisted that the document titled “Biblical Basis for War” was actually just notes for a scholarly sermon on war in the Old Testament.

Later that year, a firm of private investigators hired by House leaders authored a report that largely corroborated previous news stories about Shea’s involvement in the far-right “patriot” movement, his preoccupation with military-style prepping and reconnaissance, his belief in an imminent civil war and government collapse, his conspiracy theories about Muslims and liberals, and his dream of achieving a Christian theocracy.

It also concluded Shea had been involved in standoffs with federal agents in Nevada, Oregon and Idaho, and determined that he had sought to intimidate political opponents and condoned acts of violence by his supporters.

Shea denied the allegations in the report, calling it a “sham investigation” and comparing it to investigations surrounding then-President Donald Trump.

House Republican Caucus leaders decided to remove Shea from their caucus, meaning he could not join meetings of the GOP lawmakers or use caucus staff. But he refused calls to resign, and House Republicans balked at an effort by Democrats to expel him from the Legislature.

Late in that session, he joined a group of Christian conservatives in an event that involved prayers, the blowing of rams horns and the sprinkling of oil on the Capitol steps as a counter-protest to a demonstration that day by the Satanic Temple of Seattle.

After the 2020 session, he announced he would not seek re-election. Although he was rumored to be considering a run for Congress, he instead became the pastor of the Covenant Christian Church.

Who is Feucht?

Sean Feucht got his start at Bethel Church, a megachurch in Redding, California, with significant influence in local politics there, said Shawn Schwaller, a history professor at California State University, Chico and a Redding-based freelance writer with a focus on far-right extremism.

While Feucht lost his 2020 bid for Congress, he found political momentum with the creation of Let Us Worship, which protested pandemic-restrictions on in-person church services.

“He hit the jackpot,” Schwaller said. “He toured the country on that and made millions.”

Feucht put out a documentary last year called “Superspreader: The Rise of #LetUsWorship.”

The Kingdom to the Capitol tour made stops in Missoula, Kalispell and Seattle before coming to Spokane. It is next scheduled for South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa before touring in Canada.

Kingdom to the Capitol and Feucht were condemned last month by dozens of faith leaders and elected leaders in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, including state Senate Majority Leader Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, who jointly signed a letter calling Feucht an extremist.

“Sean Feucht has spent the past year capitalizing on anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments by railing against Pride Month, even embracing the exclusionary label of ‘Christian nationalist,’ and declaring that people with his narrow view of Christian theology should make all laws in the United States,” the letter stated.