SPOKANE, Wash. -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other state Democrats are criticizing a conservative state representative for appearing to support spying on political opponents.
The Guardian newspaper reported Saturday it had obtained the contents of chats involving Republican Rep. Matt Shea, of Spokane Valley, and three other men proposing to confront leftists with a variety of tactics, including violence, surveillance and intimidation. The chats on the messaging app Signal took place in the days leading up to a supposed left-wing revolt in November 2017. The revolt never occurred.
Shea turned around and walked away when asked for a comment at the state Capitol in Olympia on Monday. He also did not respond to a telephone message and email sent by The Associated Press.
All of the men used screen aliases. The Guardian said it confirmed the identity of those in the chat, including Shea, by cross-checking phone numbers attached to the Signal accounts.
Apart from violence, the men extensively discussed tactics of surveillance and intimidation. In response to a request in the chat for background checks on Spokane residents, Shea volunteered to help, going on to name three individuals, the newspaper reported.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib decried Shea on Twitter, saying, "Obtaining background checks on people for the purpose of planning violence against them is a crime, and even offering to do so is clearly 100% unacceptable in the Legislature."
"I call on House Republicans to do the right thing and eject Matt Shea from their caucus," Habib wrote this weekend.
Inslee, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said Monday that Shea's behavior had crossed a line.
"He participated in conversations that advocated for violence against those with dissenting opinions," Inslee said. "He is actively conspiring with others to surveil and target political activists."
The state Democratic Party called for Republicans to expel Shea.
"You don't have to be a student of history to recognize the dangers that people like Matt Shea pose to our hard-won democracy," Democratic chair Tina Podlodowski said Monday, adding Shea "crossed the decency line for most Washingtonians years ago."
House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said Monday that Shea himself did not make any threats of violence in his chats. Wilcox declined to condemn Shea's remarks regarding background checks, saying he "would want to understand a little more about the conversation."
Shea, who represents a deeply conservative district, has served in the state House since 2008, and has embraced far-right conspiracy theories, mingled with militia groups and visited right-wing activists who seized a wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016.
The six-term legislator and military veteran came to international attention in 2018 after a document he authored laid out a "biblical basis for war" against people who practiced same-sex marriage and abortion and instructed: "If they do not yield, kill all males."
Shea lost some political donors and was stripped of his role as chair of the Republican caucus after that controversy.
But he has since introduced bills to criminalize abortion and roll back gun laws.
Last summer, Shea lashed out at the media at a gun-rights rally by calling journalists "dirty, godless, hateful people."
He has also pushed for eastern Washington to secede from the rest of the state and create a 51st state called Liberty.
Associated Press journalist Tom James contributed from Olympia, Washington.