Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, has been dogged this week by the release of text messages from 2017 in which he appeared to condone surveillance and even violence against opponents. "I want to understand these allegations as thoroughly as possible," House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm, surrounded by his leadership team, told reporters Friday.
Wilcox said he doesn't know yet what such a review would entail, but they "have a responsibility to the truth." Lawmakers are racing to finish a two-year state budget, and Wilcox said his constituents expect him to first focus on that matter.
When asked about the specifics of the texts, Wilcox said: "I and this whole caucus have spoken repeatedly about the fact that we condemn that language. We don't want to be associated with that language."
Shea, who rarely speaks to the press, did not return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment. The Guardian newspaper previously reported it had obtained the contents of chats from 2017 involving Shea and three other men proposing to confront leftists with a variety of tactics, including violence, surveillance and intimidation.
That report prompted Democrats to demand Republicans expel Shea from their caucus. Shea, a lawyer, posted a statement on his personal Facebook page late Monday calling the story "an extremely misleading hit-piece."
In the chats printed by The Guardian, Shea appeared to offer to perform background checks on political opponents. He did not appear to disagree when others suggested violence. While numerous Democrats called for Shea to be expelled from the GOP caucus, Wilcox said Shea did not make any of the threats of violence in the group chat.
The chats on the messaging app Signal took place in the days leading up to a supposed left-wing revolt in November 2017 that never occurred. All of the men used screen aliases. The Guardian said it obtained the chats from an informant and confirmed the identity of those in the chat, including Shea, by cross-checking phone numbers attached to the Signal accounts.
Apart from violence, the men extensively discussed tactics of surveillance and intimidation, the story said. In response to a request in the chat for background checks on Spokane residents, Shea volunteered to help, going on to name three individuals, the newspaper reported.
On Thursday, a Spokane television station reported that a group chat involving Shea was originally titled in Russian in a phrase that means "The White Movement." KHQ-TV said the chat logs from 2017 were provided to the station by two Shea associates who wish to remain anonymous.
Gonzaga University professor Kevin O'Connor told the station the White Movement, also known as the White Armies, was "anti-Semitic in nature," but was not the same as the white supremacist movements in the United States.
He said the White Armies wanted to resurrect the old Russian Empire, but also attacked Jewish communities. O'Connor said the White Movement was a major influence on Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. "We take any charges involving things like racism very seriously," Wilcox, the GOP leader, said.
Shea, who represents a deeply conservative district, has served in the state House since 2008, and has embraced far-right conspiracy theories, mingled with militia groups and visited right-wing activists who seized a wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016.
The military veteran attracted international attention in 2018 after a document he wrote laid out a "biblical basis for war" against people who practiced same-sex marriage and abortion and instructed: "If they do not yield, kill all males."
Shea lost some political donors and was stripped of his role as chair of the Republican caucus after that. But he has since introduced bills to criminalize abortion and roll back gun laws. He has also pushed for eastern Washington to secede from the rest of the state and create a 51st state called Liberty.
Geranios reported from Spokane, Washington.