When state Rep. Matt Shea arrived at the Bundy ranch outside Las Vegas two weeks ago to join the grazing-lands standoff against the federal government, he triumphantly told his Twitter followers, “The first patriots from Washington State are on the ground in Nevada.”
It seemed an unusual place for a patriot to land, especially a hard-right, gun-toting, constitution-thumping Christian like Shea. The Eastern Washington legislator who says “We need to cut programs where there’s fraud, like in welfare,” had just traveled 1,000 miles to defend a serial welfare defrauder and criminal trespasser.
But then it takes chutzpah and hypocrisy to be one of Olympia’s leading right-wingnuts. This is, after all, the man who made his wife walk on his left in public because he wore his sword on his right.
Not that he wore a sword—at least not in public. But if he did, the wife says he told her, it wouldn’t be sword etiquette for her to walk on that side.
The issue was later resolved when the family-values candidate divorced her, explaining to a judge she was a “product of the foster-care system.”
A Spokane Valley Republican, Shea calls his legislative slate the Freedom Agenda and is a honcho with the Oath Keepers, who believe there’s a federal plot to disarm America and establish detention camps.
As he said in one radio interview, “most particularly disturbing about [the camps] is that they’re gonna be on former military bases.” People could be tricked into entering the camps, he said, achieving a state of pacification. “There’s some very eerie similarities between using pastors to pacify people now as happened in Nazi Germany,” he explained.
What brought Shea and others to Bundy Ranch was one of the Oath Keepers’ main oaths: “We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.”
To Shea and especially to FOX News, 67-year-old Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy is a hero for refusing to pay the Bureau of Land Management $1 million in grazing fees over 20 years. Federal courts have repeatedly struck down every claim Bundy has made to the land, and twice ordered him to remove his 400 to 900 head of cattle.
But he refused, sticking to his story that it wasn’t the federal government’s land because there’s no such thing. The BLM may have the deed to the property, Bundy says, but he doesn’t recognize it as legal paper.
“If I owe grazing fees, money to a government, I would be happy to pay it to the proper government,” he says, “but I’ll be darned if I’m gonna pay grazing fees to the United States government.” The land, he says, belongs to the state.
It’s an interesting defense. If you’re caught stealing government assets, claim the government doesn’t exist.
You have to wonder how that might work for, say, the Seattle store owners recently busted for illegally buying and reselling federal food stamps. Would attorney Shea, though he’s a food-stamp critic, come to their defense as he did Bundy’s, arguing “United States? Never heard of it.”
We can probably all agree the federal government can be intrusive, bullying, and bureaucratic, particularly around April 15. It was also a screw-up to allow the grazing dispute to go unresolved for decades. And Bundy, pushed around by the feds in the past, may have an argument to make.
As the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association says in a statement, “Well-intentioned laws such as the Endangered Species Act, which are factors in Mr. Bundy’s case, are being implemented in a way that are damaging to our rights and to our Western families and communities.”
But all its members pay to use the federal lands Bundy is mooching on, the association adds. His only real solution is to fight it out in the courtroom. And after the feds pulled out from the ranch last week to avoid bloodshed, that’s where the issue is again likely headed, for now.
Shea, despite his legal background, seemed to think the answer was potentially violent confrontation. In a rah-rah video made on the Bundy ranch, he accuses the feds of making “war on rural America” and warns that “if we don’t stand up for our neighbors, there won’t be anybody left when they come for us.”
He told the YouTube audience he is a “10-year Army combat veteran” (he served 11 months in Baghdad and eight months in Bosnia-Herzegovina) and that he was ashamed of the government “snipers” positioned around the Bundy ranch. He failed to mention the gun-toting militia members and other supporters vowing to fight to the death for Bundy’s right to freeload.
Then he returned to Spokane last week—just in time for his 2014 campaign fundraiser. Among those attending was Clint Didier, who’s running for the U.S. congressional seat being vacated by Doc Hastings. Of Shea, Didier tweeted, “WA is lucky to have him.” Apparently Shea didn’t inform Didier that if he’s elected to the federal government, he’ll no longer exist.
Rick Anderson writes about sex, crime, money, and politics, which tend to be the same thing.