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Shawn Vestal: The state of Liberty may not have a shot, but it’s heady fiction

Matt Shea attends a Rand Paul rally, Aug. 26, 2015. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Matt Shea attends a Rand Paul rally, Aug. 26, 2015. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Here’s a question for all of us future residents of the great State of Liberty: What should we choose as the state rifle?

There are so very many good options. Maybe we should pick two?

In Liberty, after all, extremism in the defense of rifles will be no vice.

As the concept of an Eastern Washington “Liberty State” – a far-right fantasyland of God, guns and free-cattle-grazing envisioned by Spokane Valley conservatives – evolves from a bad 100-year-old idea to bad contemporary idea, supporters are selecting the symbols that will define this would-be 51st state.

Our state animal is apparently the grizzly bear. State flag – a spread eagle, clutching a sword and broken fetters. State tree – the tamarack. State capitol – at least if Rep. Matt Shea has his way – the city of Spokane Valley. A constitution has been drafted, according to the Liberty State web site.

TBD are state fruit, state vegetable and, yes, state rifle.

The state of Liberty is a fictional realm, an AM radio fever dream, a hypothetical amalgam of rural defensiveness and anti-government paranoia, longed for by those who miss the 1950s and who are bracing for a government collapse brought on by Obama’s continued Deep State meddling. It’s largely a Shea production, and as such it leans heavily on alternative realities – perhaps the most significant of which is that this idea is remotely possible.

As a state of mind, though, it’s already real. As a state of mind, it is nothing new – just the latest fragrant stew cooked up from the perennial ingredients of Western anti-government pathology. To get a sense of it, it’s useful to listen to Shea’s podcasts, in which he quotes scripture and marvels at how well President Trump is standing up to the tyranny of his investigators and interviews fringe authors and warns listeners that the government is coming for their guns, the sentiments fueled by the powerful resentment of those who feel looked down upon by city folks.

“This area of the country,” Shea said in his April 25 podcast, “that some in the downtown area of Seattle call the place of hicks and rednecks and rubes and whatever other derogatory name they want to use – remember this part of the country is more intelligently literate, by a lot, than the left coast and downtown Seattle specifically. A lot more intelligently literate. They actually track that, and I have a map that shows the percentages.”

I bet that’s one interesting map.

Supporters of the Liberty State floated a bill in the Legislature last session that withered quickly. Now they’re putting on a bit of a road show, as Shea takes the idea out for a round of mollycoddling from supporters.

He was scheduled to speak last night at the Douglas County Republicans Lincoln Day dinner, sharing the bill with Dino Rossi and Dan Newhouse in Wenatchee. In advance materials for the event, organizers seemed very enthusiastic and very credulous about Liberty.

“For our main event, we have State Representative Matt Shea as our speaker about the topic of ‘Liberty, the 51st State!’ For years there has been talk about ‘splitting the state’ but now there is a well developed plan to make it happen. Central and Eastern Washington are the regions that fit into the new state and we want to share with you how we can make LIBERTY a reality!!”

The Liberty road show has made stops in Newport and Ephrata (where the Liberty Press blog reported that, “The best question was asked by a lady who wanted to know what it might cost for Liberty State to build a wall!”) It’s rolled into Ferry and Lincoln counties, and is headed to Yakima and Benton counties.

Shea long ago stopped responding to requests for comment from me and most journalists in town, and this week was no different: A message sent to the Liberty State web site, seeking comment about the project’s progress, was not returned. But the site includes information about some recent events, as well as a recap of efforts to organize volunteers and build support among county commissioners, while asking supporters to send in donations and pictures of their flags.

There is Liberty Swag – T-shirts, ballcaps, a pop socket – and a page called Liberty in Pictures, which includes an image of seemingly every pasture and grain silo in Eastern Washington.

It is, in other words, gathering a few of the feathers of a real bird, the trappings and surfaces of something a less crackpotty than it is. But the gap between those few feathers and actual flight – the creation of a 51st state – seems unbridgeable, as well as unwise, requiring levels of approval from governments ranging from Eastern Washington counties up to the U.S. Congress.

To say nothing of the need to pick a state rifle or two.


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