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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty state proponents push plan to secede from Washington at Moses Lake press conference

Rene' Holaday, a former legislative aide to state Rep. Matt Shea and a leader in the movement to turn Eastern Washington into a 51st state, speaks to reporters in Moses Lake on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)

Proponents of a plan to split Washington into two states held their first news conference Wednesday evening in Moses Lake – an attempt, they said, to clear up misconceptions about the movement and counter criticism of its most prominent leader, state Rep. Matt Shea, who was not in attendance.

No major announcements were made in the small conference room of a Ramada hotel, where Shea’s former legislative aide Rene’ Holaday read a prepared statement and fielded questions from a handful of reporters.

Also in the room were about 15 volunteers and “county captains” working to turn Eastern Washington into a 51st state called Liberty, including John Christina, who worked in the Spokane County treasurer’s office under former treasurer Rob Chase, another supporter of the secession movement.

Holaday claimed that splitting Washington would be a win-win scenario for rural conservatives who live east of the Cascades and urban liberals who live to the west. She also defended Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who is under scrutiny for promoting visions of a theocratic “redoubt” region, exploring ways to surveil political opponents, participating in discussions of violence and harassment and embracing a group that has trained boys and young men with firearms to prepare them for “biblical” warfare.

Holaday characterized that scrutiny as an attack on Shea’s “effectiveness” as a lawmaker, but also put some rhetorical distance between him and the Liberty state movement.

“While Rep. Shea struck the match, Liberty state is about we the people,” she said. “And we’re just happy he was willing to introduce the bill on our behalf. He is being attacked because he and the Republican freedom agenda have worked very hard over the past decade to block Democrat actions. It is my belief that the west side would be much happier without that large group of Republicans working so hard against them all the time.”

In Liberty, Holaday said, all religions would be welcome, Native American treaty rights would be respected and residents would have unfettered gun and property rights. Asked about leaked documents written by Shea, including a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War,” Holaday echoed her former boss, saying they were nothing more than studious notes. But “Biblical Basis for War” goes beyond anything described in the Old Testament, including condemnations of abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I wasn’t privy to any of those men’s Bible study groups,” Holaday said.

Holaday, a horse breeder from Stevens County, hosts a podcast in which she calls herself Lady Liberty and has written a book titled “The Perils of Sustainable Development,” which expands on far-right conspiracy theories about the United Nations trying to “abolish” things like property rights, air conditioning and meat consumption.

At a Liberty state fundraising event in Spokane Valley in May, Holaday drew applause when she summed up what she said was the sentiment of the House GOP caucus: “It’s either going to be bloodshed or Liberty state.”

The House clerk’s office later fired Holaday for speaking at that event. As employees of the state government, legislative aides are prohibited from lobbying and taking leadership roles in political organizations.

Liberty state volunteers took in money at the May event by auctioning baked goods. But Holaday said they haven’t yet formed a legal entity to own and manage that money. She said they plan to establish a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which could legally take part in some political activities. She said she doesn’t manage the movement’s finances and couldn’t explain how that is done.

Liberty state supporters plan to have a booth at the Spokane County Interstate Fair, which starts Friday and runs through Sept. 15. Holaday said she hopes to convince enough Eastern Washington residents that a new state can be formed with favorable votes in the Legislature and Congress.

“When both are a plague to each other because of natural cultural differences, and both would be much happier without the other, there’s only one solution that works very well for both sides,” she said. “And that is the amiable formation of the new state of Liberty that both sides agree would be the best win-win situation.”