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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Rep. Matt Shea saw ex-WSU GOPer James Allsup not as a bigot but as an ally

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, walks off the House floor to attend a caucus meeting, Monday, April 22, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia. An independent investigation into Shea is expected to be released in the coming weeks. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, walks off the House floor to attend a caucus meeting, Monday, April 22, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia. An independent investigation into Shea is expected to be released in the coming weeks. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

It should come as no surprise, and yet it still somehow does, to learn that Matt Shea looked at James Allsup – the Charlottesville-marching white separatist who once led the student GOP at Washington State University and who was a would-be leader of the alt-right – and saw an ally.

Not a bigot. Not a fringe thinker dangerous to decent conservatism. Not a cancer to be denounced out of a sense of morality.

Nope. Shea, the Spokane Valley’s extremist messiah, looked at Allsup and thought: He seems like our kinda guy.

Shea’s right, for once. Allsup would be a natural fit on Shea’s team – that circle of loose screws, online tough guys, racist ignoramuses, Islamophobes and homophobes, violent fantasists, Trump cultists and gun lovers who orbit Shea like planets circling a dying sun.

It was fascinating to see, among the latest chat transcripts released by a former Shea associate, Shea express such enthusiasm and interest in Allsup, right as Allsup was achieving national notoriety as a new breed of American bigot.

“Here’s my two cents,” Shea, writing under his nom-de-dumb, Verum Bellator, in a chat in which Allsup was being defended. “I think you should reach out to him and if he is legit (not racist or a plant) make an ally.”

It’s puzzling to wonder what would make Shea consider someone a racist, but it’s worth noting that this comment last June came well after Allsup had traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to speak and carry a backyard tiki torch among the hordes hollering, “Jews will not replace us!”

He had already made a speech there in which, according to a video online, he said, “If you really want diversity, just move to South Africa and you’ll get all the diversity that you want. You’ll also get raped and beaten and murdered with a power drill, but hey, it’s diverse!”

You could go on and on with the straight-up racism, as well as coded racism embedded in white nationalist thinking and white-replacement paranoia, that had flowed out of Allsup’s own mouth by that point.

Crucially, though, Allsup defended himself against charges of racism in an utterly mainstream conservative way – the same way Trump’s defenders do: “Racist is not a real word. Racist is a word that the left uses to demonize somebody that says something that they find to be politically inconvenient. … They use it to attack and demonize people and it doesn’t mean anything.”

For all Allsup’s extremism, this statement is not remotely unusual in mainstream conservatism. It’s an article of faith. Conservatives follow Thomas Sowell on Twitter just to retweet him expressing this exact sentiment. Fox News has it on a hot key for chyrons.

The tragic saga of the conservative tragically accused of racism is one of those filaments that keeps the fringe connected to the middle. It’s one of the reasons that Allsup has correctly recognized that the natural home for him and his alt-wrongers is the GOP. He recognizes simpatico when he sees it.

And so does Shea, apparently. It’s not clear that any actual, real-world alliance ever occurred between these two paragons of Inland Northwest right-wing extremism. The chats released recently cover a wide variety of topics.

The Guardian’s Jason Wilson, who has done a lot of good work on Shea and therefore been attacked as an antifa stooge in Shea World, summarized the chats as “new evidence of violent fantasies, surveillance of perceived adversaries, conspiracy thinking, Islamophobia, and support for white nationalists” among Shea and his allies.

The chats were leaked by a former Shea associate who is doing his best to draw attention to the Spokane Valley lawmaker via a strategic release of damning information.

The cycle of coverage of these leaks has taken on a familiar pattern: New craziness is leaked, showing Shea and his circle engaged in all manner of frightening alternative-universe end-times chit-chat – whether it’s talking about skull-stomping communists, or warning each other to arm themselves extra well for Ramadan, or fantasizing about the theocracy they hope to establish as the 51st state. That news then rockets around the internet, provoking outrage and alarm.

That’s the last straw, the tenor of this response goes; Shea must be removed.

Which is, in one sense, absolutely understandable. But in another sense – a sad, frustrating sense – all the new revelations about Shea are as likely to produce real change as throwing feathers into a fan.

With every new revelation, the picture of Shea is a little clearer and a little more detailed, but it’s essentially the same picture that’s been clearly visible for years.

Shea saw a fellow traveler in Allsup. The same GOP that found its voice and denounced Allsup should do the same with Shea. But it should have done that last year, too, or the year before, or the year before.

The biggest surprise at this stage would be if that day ever came.

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