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A Sagebrush-Supporting State Legislator with National Political Ambitions has Ties to America’s Largest Anti-Muslim Hate Group

Last June, six months after paying a visit to the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Washington State Representative Matt Shea organized a chapter of the anti-Muslim hate group ACT For America in Spokane, Washington.

Shea – an outspoken supporter of the antigovernment Sagebrush Rebellion – is another worrying example of Islamophobia penetrating the conspiracist ranks of the so-called Patriot movement.

“JOIN US IN THE FIGHT TO STOP RADICAL ISLAM,” Shea posted to his Facebook page on June 18, advertising ACT Spokane’s debut at the Spokane Valley Library.

Brigitte Gabriel, ACT’s founder, claims her organization was launched as a response to the 9/11 attacks, and “educates citizens and elected officials to impact policy involving national security and defeating terrorism.”

In reality, ACT works to advance anti-Muslim legislation at the local and federal levels while flooding the American public with hate speech demonizing Muslims.

“[A] practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah … who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States,” Gabriel said in 2007. The Pew Research Center estimates that there are 3.3 million American Muslims currently living in the United States.

Following a tumultuous presidential election cycle in which Islamophobia surged from the far-right fringe into the White House, the business of Muslim bashing is booming. This year the SPLC counted 45 active ACT chapters nationwide, and while ACT is the largest grassroots organization of its kind in the US, it is just one of many forces that make up the anti-Muslim echo chamber.

Shea was among several far-right doomsayers who re-circulated a false narrative of a criminal incident that took place in June 2016 where three boys from immigrant families allegedly sexually assaulted a five-year-old girl in Twin Falls, Idaho.

As is custom in cases involving juveniles, the case was sealed. But that didn’t stop far-right media outlets like Breitbart, InfoWars and The Drudge Report from churning out inflammatory and false reports. One headline “THREE SYRIAN ‘REFUGEES’ RAPE LITTLE GIRL AT KNIFEPOINT IN IDAHO” was directly debunked by local law enforcement.

“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang rape,” Twin Falls county prosecutor Grant Loebs told a local newspaper, adding that  local groups opposed to refugee relocation were fanning the flames. Twin Falls just happens to be home to a very active ACT chapter.  

When Gabriel came to Twin Falls to speak two months later, a Patriot group called the “Three Percent of Idaho” provided security for her at a number of different events.

The Three Percent movement has been highly visible in anti-Muslim activism over the past few years. Notable Three Percenters include Arizona’s Jon Ritzheimer, Georgia’s Chris Hill, both known for their armed protests at mosques, and Texas’s David Wright who bragged about monitoring the activity of local Muslim communities.

In western Washington, a local ACT chapter organized a late 2015 rally against Muslim refugees at the Capitol building in Olympia. The “Liberty for All Three Percent Militia” out of Yakima, Washington – whose leader, Anthony Bosworth, has close ties with Shea – came in to provide security for ACT. Videos of the event show the Three Percenters patrolling the area with guns.

Targeting minorities is hardly foreign territory for the Patriot movement, which has historical roots in white supremacy and anti-Semitism.

Now, fueled by a rapidly expanding world of anti-Muslim propagandists, the very real psychological impact of terrorism and the "War on Terror," and the belief that the government is turning a blind eye to refugees (read: terrorists), violent animus toward Muslims is becoming a central part of Patriot thought. 

Shea seems to be no exception, using his Facebook page to share articles by anti-Muslim organizations run by Ryan Mauro and John Guandolo, two standout propagandists who believe Muslims are hell-bent on infiltrating and dominating the country.

“THE BETRAYAL PAPERS,” Shea posted earlier this month. “THE CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE SHOWING THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD’S INFLUENCE OVER THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT.” Shea accompanied this post with a link to a six-part series by the anti-Muslim website, The American Report, that Shea believes confirms his suspicions.

Just today, Shea posted an article written by Guandolo and warned his followers of the “COMBINED INTERTWINED THREAT OF COMMUNISTS AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD.”  This rhetoric mirrors a driving conspiracy theory now being pushed by the Oath Keepers and Patriot novelist, Matthew Bracken, who claim that international socialism and Islam are teaming up to destroy Western nationalism.

Last fall, during a peak in anti-Muslim bigotry on the national stage, three members of a Kansas Three Percenter militia were arrested in an FBI sting operation and charged with plotting to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up an entire residential complex.

The target was selected because it housed around 120 mostly Somali-born Muslims and contained a mosque. The men, who labeled the Muslims “cockroaches,” were hoping to “wake up” other Americans and ignite a war against Muslims.

While it is unclear how exactly these men became radicalized, the power of right-wing propaganda and the fusion of these two movements cannot be discounted.

It’s that fusion that Shea appears to believe is his ticket to Congress. 

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