OLYMPIA – After a week in which he was officially removed from his committee assignments and moved to the back of the House floor, Rep. Matt Shea got a welcome more akin to a rock star Friday morning at a gun rights rally on the steps of the Capitol.
Other legislators, including Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, got warm receptions from the crowd estimated at about 400 by the Washington State Patrol.
But Shea was surrounded by people who wanted to shake his hand or embrace him on the way to and from the microphone, along with his own security and a small posse of news cameras and microphones chronicling his appearance. At one point he also had a critic hovering nearby, demanding he resign.
His speech brought full-throated roars from demonstrators – some with handguns strapped to their hips or rifles slung on their shoulders.
Shea has been a regular speaker at gun-rights rallies during recent legislative sessions, and his message on that topic hasn’t changed.
“We should never back down, we should never quit,” he said.
This year, he also addressed the allegations in an independent investigation commissioned by House leadership that contend he was involved in activity that could be considered domestic terrorism at protests against the federal government at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada or the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Shea said he “wasn’t going to back down” when federal agents seized Bundy’s cows. When the protest erupted over the re-sentencing of the Hammond brothers in Oregon, “I wasn’t going to be sitting on my duff back in Washington,” he added.
But people involved in those events could have rebutted the allegations in the report had they been asked, he said. His critics were trying to “label lynch” him, he added, repeating his contention they were using Marxist tactics.
“Antifa hasn’t been investigated,” he said, a reference to the antifascists organizations that often square off against far-right groups like the Three Percenters, who were represented at the rally. “The real enemies of this country aren’t being investigated.”
A Facebook page for one Three Percent group briefly carried some threats against House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, “that raised some security concerns,” Chris Loftis, a Washington State Patrol spokesman said. The threats were taken off the Facebook page and the information was referred to a patrol investigative unit.
WSP provided security for the rally, as it does for all demonstrations at the Capitol, but there was nothing extra because of the Facebook comments, Loftis said.
Wilcox and other House Republican leaders removed Shea from the Minority Caucus in December after the report was released. Republican and Democratic leaders have called for him to resign, which Shea has said repeatedly he won’t do.
Some Democrats have urged their leaders to call for his expulsion, but under the state Constitution that would require a two-thirds majority and Democrats would need at least nine Republicans to vote with them.
Graham, who spoke before Shea at the rally, told the crowd it was more important than ever to pay attention to the Legislature.
“The God-given and Nature-given right to protect yourself is under attack,” said Graham, who said she has a concealed weapon carry permit.
Other proposals could eliminate the death penalty and shorten the sentences for people serving life without parole, she said.
Initiative-supporter-turned-gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman also got time at the microphone. While he’s primarily known for his anti-tax ballot measures, Eyman told the crowd he’d represent them.
“I have fought for you on taxes,” he said. “I am just as committed to your Second Amendment rights.”
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