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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rep. Matt Shea endorsed training children to fight in holy war

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea speaks at a gun rights rally in Olympia in January 2019. House Republican leaders expelled Shea from their caucus Thursday after an independent investigation found the Spokane Valley lawmaker’s role in the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 amounted to “an act of domestic terrorism against the United States.” (Ted Warren / AP)

A week before his re-election last year, state Rep. Matt Shea denied that a leaked manifesto he wrote was a road map for a holy war, one that would pit conservative Christian “patriots” against Muslim and Marxist “terrorists.”

Rather, Shea insisted, the document titled “Biblical Basis for War” contained notes for a scholarly sermon on war in the Old Testament.

But newly leaked emails, first reported by The Guardian on Wednesday, as well as a video on Shea’s public Facebook page, reveal the Spokane Valley lawmaker has had close ties with a group called Team Rugged that trained children, teens and men in their early 20s for religious combat.

“The entire purpose behind Team Rugged is to provide patriotic and biblical training on war for young men,” a man identified as the group’s leader, Patrick Caughran, wrote in a July 2016 email to Shea. “Everything about it is both politically incorrect and what would be considered shocking truth to most modern christians. There will be scenarios where every participant will have to fight against one of the most barbaric enemies that are invading our country, Muslims terrorists.”

A man identified as Patrick Caughran sent this email to state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, in July 2016.
A man identified as Patrick Caughran sent this email to state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, in July 2016.

Caughran added that a Team Rugged event would offer “biblical teaching” based on the works of John Weaver, a racist preacher who has defended slavery, idolized the Confederacy and condemned interracial marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center says Weaver “has recently become a leading proponent of training Christians for armed battle.”

The event also would offer weapons training, Caughran told Shea. “Those who attend will learn combatives, the use of a knife in defense, close quarters shooting with rifle and pistol and how to work effectively in teams of 2, 3 and 4.”

Caughran went on to ask Shea to connect him with “John Jacob Schmidt,” the pseudonym of far-right podcaster Jack Robertson, who once proposed physically attacking liberal demonstrators in a leaked group chat that included Shea.

Shea replied to Caughran and passed along his request to Robertson.

Team Rugged’s Facebook page and website were taken down after The Guardian reported about the emails on Wednesday. It’s unclear if the group is still active.

The Facebook page had included videos of Team Rugged members completing an obstacle course and firing Airsoft guns in Marble, a conservative religious community in northern Stevens County.

One video shows Team Rugged members who appear to be young enough to attend middle school.

The emails between Caughran and Shea were contained in a trove of Shea-related documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review through multiple sources. The same materials have been turned over to a team of private investigators hired by the state House of Representatives to determine whether Shea has promoted political violence.

But the lawmaker’s connection with Team Rugged was hardly a secret: In July 2017, during the Marble community’s annual God and Country Celebration, Shea posted a Facebook Live video that shows him interviewing three Team Rugged members in their early 20s.

“Tell everybody out there in Patriot Land, what is Team Rugged?” Shea asks in the video, holding a microphone. “What are you guys doing?”

One member, wearing a green shirt and a camouflage baseball cap, answers: “Team Rugged is basically a school of learning for young men to give them all the foundational learning and skills that they need to be effective in Christian warfare.”

Shea then muses about the group’s capabilities. “I love the fact that you guys looked like almost an acrobatic special forces team out there,” he says.

Records on file with the Washington Secretary of State’s Office show a company called Team Rugged LLC was formed in August 2017, about a year after Caughran emailed Shea.

As The Guardian reported, the records include an innocuous-sounding description of the group’s activities: “We provide outdoor activities for young men and boys to increase their good character and skills to perform in teams and leadership roles.”

The company is registered to Michael Caughran, of Colville, and the board of executors includes Barry Byrd, the pastor of the Marble community. (In 1988, Byrd helped pen a Christian Identity manifesto that referred to Jews as “anti-Christs” and condemned interracial marriage, though he and his wife, Anne, have since tried to distance themselves from racist ideology.)

The Spokesman-Review found five other companies registered in Washington that have listed the Byrds as executors. The S.A.L.T. Institute LLC, registered in 1996, lists “education” as its purpose. Marble Flats LLC, registered in 2010, exists to “buy and sell real estate.”

The Byrds also are listed on filings for Old Marble Township LLC, Preparedness LLC and The Marble Commonwealth Trust LLC, which names Stevens County Commissioner Steve Parker as an executor.

Attempts to reach Parker and Caughran were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who has urged fellow Republicans to denounce Shea as an extremist, compared Team Rugged to the Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany.

“Any radicalization of youth in such a manner would be very comparable,” Knezovich said in a text message Wednesday.

Shea, who rarely speaks to the media and once called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people,” had not publicly responded to the Team Rugged revelations as of Wednesday evening.

On Facebook Wednesday, he shared a blog post about Washington’s new Democratic House speaker, writing: “THE CURRENT DIRECTION OF WASHINGTON IS DECIDEDLY ANTI-CHRISTIAN.”