Montanans Hobnobbed with Matt Shea at 2018 Whitefish Event
News broke in the last day that a report commissioned by the Washington Legislature found that Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) “participated in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” and represents a threat of political violence. For those who have watched Shea over the years, this finding wasn’t surprising. However, what’s new is that Shea’s own party has finally taken action and kicked him out. Responding to the report, Washington Republican House Minority Leader JT Wilcox (R-McKenna ) said Shea had been suspended from the House Republican Caucus. Wilcox also recommended Shea resign.
As MHRN has previously written, Shea has been a favorite speaker at Far Right events since being elected to the Washington Legislature in 2008. From militia meetings to anti-choice rallies and anti-Indian conferences, if a group needed an ultra-conservative ideological firebrand, Shea fit the bill. His impassioned speeches combined with his status as an elected official made him a desired addition to any lineup of Far-Right speakers. However, he gained more notoriety and standing after his support and participation in armed standoffs with the Bundy Family in recent years. This involvement weighed heavily in the Washington Legislature’s report.
Shea is not a stranger to Montana, with his last big visit coming in October 2018. Local organizers Laura Lee O’Neil and Elaine Willman invited him to speak at an event in Whitefish that brought together the militia, anti-Indian, and anti-environmental movements. Called “A ‘New’ Code of the West,” the conference was headlined by none other than Ammon Bundy, a member of the above-mentioned pied-piping family of armed standoffs with the federal government.
At the event, Shea shared the stage with speakers from Montana, while other notable public officials and Far Right activists were attendees. Below is a quick rundown of some of the notable Montanans who rubbed elbows with Shea at the event.
Montana Officials Associating with Shea
The New Code event found quite a few elected officials and candidates for office learning from the likes of Matt Shea and Ammon Bundy. Like Shea, Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) was a featured speaker at the event. White has been one of the central actors for Montana’s anti-environmental “wise use” movement for decades. The “wise use” or “multiple use” movement began in the 1980s with funding and guidance from extractive industry, which created Astroturf community groups to promote industry’s agenda. While the movement’s agenda is focused on opposing conservation, it has long intersected with the anti-Indian and militia movements, especially at the local levels.
Attending the event were candidates running for spots in the Montana Legislature. This included two who are now serving in the Montana House – Rep. Mark Noland (R-Bigfork) and Rep. Joe Read (R-Ronan). Two other attendees were former Republican legislators who would lose in the General Election – Columbia Falls’ Jerry O’Neil and Livingston’s Dan Skattum. Over the years, other state legislators have taken notice of Shea’s work. For example, Rep. Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton) lauded his work supporting the Bundy Family during the Nevada standoff.
Dan Happel, an emcee at the New Code event, is a former Madison County Commissioner. He is best known for being a so-called expert when it comes to the conspiracy theories regarding Agenda 21. Happel claims Agenda 21 was crafted by a group of 35-40 international bankers called the Club of Rome in 1968, where they decided to use “environmentalism” as a tool to subjugate the world to one-world government. He also shares the militia movement’s beliefs that the government is establishing prison camps. When introducing Matt Shea, Happel called Shea “one of the premiere” legislators in the country.
While Happel no longer serves as a county commissioner, one such officeholder did attend part of New Code. Lake County Commissioner Gale Decker at the time was running for re-election to his seat on the commission. Decker is an aggressive opponent of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) when it comes to the Tribes exercising tribal sovereignty.
Far Right Groups and Activists Learn from Shea
Along with elected officials and those running for office, there were many Far-Right activists and organizations present at the New Code event. Well-known members of Montana’s anti-Indian movement listened as Shea denigrated Indian Nations and downplayed the validity of treaty rights. They included Dr. Kate Vandemoer and Elaine Willman (who also spoke at the event). The two have fought against the CSKT Water Compact. Christopher Kortlander was another speaker at the event who, like Willman, formerly served on the board of the nation’s largest anti-Indian group.
There were several other activists and groups represented at the New Code event:
Franklin Shook, also known as Elias Alias, has served as the state director for Oath Keepers. Oath Keepers is an anti-government entity dedicated to recruiting law officers and military personnel into the militia movement. Shook acted as a videographer for the event.
Linda Sauer staffed a table for Last Chance Patriots, which was a sponsor of the event. Last Chance Patriots is the latest incarnation of Flathead ACT for America, which was a county level chapter of the anti-Muslim ACT for America. Like ACT for America, Last Chance Patriots is designated an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Clarice Ryan, a longtime leader of the anti-environmental Montanans for Multiple Use, received an award at the event for her activism. During his presentation, Matt Shea gave her a shoutout for all the work she has done over the years at the local level.
While their attendance of the New Code event doesn’t mean that all these people agree completely with Shea, it’s worth noting who marinates in similar ideological spaces. That’s especially true when it comes to elected officials, and those seeking such offices. It’s important to note from where they look to receive their “political education,” and it’s concerning when it’s from the likes of Matt Shea and Ammon Bundy. Community members need to take notice and understand that these aren’t just strange-sounding ideas. Instead, they are ideas that can move people to act. The Washington Legislature’s report has determined, at least when it comes to Matt Shea, sometimes those actions are domestic terrorism.