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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich warns of homegrown extremism, announces he won’t seek re-election

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich speaks about the dangers of homegrown extremism during a presentation titled “The Threats We Face” on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

After speaking for more than an hour about the dangers of homegrown extremism Tuesday evening, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announced he will not seek re-election when his term ends in 2022.

Knezovich, 56, said he plans to complete a master’s degree so he can teach college courses. He did not say whether he intends to run for another political office.

Knezovich was appointed sheriff in 2006 and has since won four elections. Reflecting on his decision to take the job, he said, “At the end of the day, I hope I fulfill a promise I talked to my wife about at a kitchen table almost 14 years ago: If I do this, I’m going to do it right.”

He made the announcement at the end of a presentation titled “The Threats We Face” at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley. The event, which drew several hundred people, was hosted by the Republicans of Spokane County, a moderate group that is separate from the Spokane County Republican Party.

Joined by former state Sen. John Smith as well as Jay Pounder and Tanner Rowe – onetime associates of state Rep. Matt Shea – Knezovich called on the community to combat white supremacy, radical strains of Christianity and other forms of extremism. They specifically called out Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who they said seeks to install Christians in positions of power over other groups.

Knezovich also raised the alarm about Islamic extremism and anti-fascist, or antifa, demonstrators, and blamed the news media for anti-police sentiment following the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Just so you know, I’m an equal-opportunity offender,” Knezovich said. He later added, “Hate knows no party line.”

Knezovich delivered the same message and criticized Shea during another presentation in 2015, also titled “The Threats We Face.”

On Tuesday, however, he was joined onstage by Pounder, who has leaked documents exposing Shea’s activities outside the Legislature, including a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War” and messages showing the lawmaker participated in discussions of violence and surveillance.

Pounder said he began subscribing to right-wing conspiracy theories after the financial crisis of 2008, when he lost $60,000 and feared for his family’s future. Eventually, he said, he met the “right people” – Shea’s circle, who offered attractive explanations for his misfortune.

But Pounder said it was Shea’s “weaponization of the Christian gospel” that finally convinced him to leave the group and leak information about it.

Smith was raised in a family of white supremacists before he was appointed to represent northeast Washington’s 7th Legislative District in 2013 and has since denounced racist ideology.

He and Pounder said Shea promotes dominionism – the idea that Christians have a God-given right to govern. Smith argued that philosophy relies on a misreading of a verse in the Bible’s book of Genesis.

Smith also argued that Shea has promoted racist ideology by associating with figures like neo-Confederate pastor John Weaver and Barry and Anne Byrd, the leaders of the Marble religious community in northern Stevens County and onetime proponents of the racist Christian Identity movement.

Shea, who rarely speaks to the news media, has denied accusations of racism and xenophobia in the past, though he routinely shares anti-Muslim conspiracy theories on social media.

Before the crowd, Knezovich questioned whether Shea has “the guts” to meet with him and answer questions about his activities.

“Now it’s time for Matt Shea to sit here. It’s time for Matt Shea to field your questions,” Knezovich told reporters during a news conference after the presentation. “If Matt Shea has the courage to stand in front of you like we have, it’s time for him to do it. He owes it to the people that elected him, just as I owe it to the people that elected me.”