Secret chats involving Republican lawmaker reveal fresh evidence of plots and paranoia

Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

Leaked Signal messages from an online chat network around six-term Washington state Republican representative Matt Shea show new evidence of violent fantasies, surveillance of perceived adversaries, conspiracy thinking, Islamophobia, and support for white nationalists.

Related: Leak from neo-Nazi site could identify hundreds of extremists worldwide

The messages from the chat group, exchanged between October 2017 and October 2018, show Shea’s network includes other serving, former and aspiring rightwing politicians from Idaho and Washington, alongside activists associated with militia groups, anti-environmental causes, and pro-gun activism.

They also show participants, including Shea, preparing for economic and societal collapse even as they campaign for the secession of eastern Washington from the remainder of the state.

The messages provide a rare insight into the inner workings – and paranoia – of the so-called patriot movement, whose members have participated in standoffs with the federal government in Nevada and Oregon, and whose far-right beliefs have been controversially promoted by Shea.

Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the progressive Western States Center, said of the chats: “The chat messages reveal Shea acting more like a militia leader than an elected official. His conspiratorial and violent mindset are on full display. If it was not already clear, Shea has demonstrated that he is unfit for public office. Now it’s time for his colleagues in the Washington house of representatives to hold him accountable.”

Shea is currently under investigation by the Washington state house after reporting on his activities by the Guardian and local media outlets.

The network

The group chat the messages appeared in was repeatedly described by participants as an “intel” channel for sharing information among a large group of Shea’s associates, including:

  • Washington state representative Matt Shea, who posts in the chat under a frequently used online alias Verrumbellator.

  • Two-term Idaho state representative Heather Scott.

  • Former Spokane Valley councilman and Shea ally Mike Munch.

  • Former Spokane Valley councilman and podcaster Caleb Collier.

  • An account posting as “Marble”, attached to a phone number registered to Anne Byrd, who with husband Pastor Barry Byrd leads the secretive Marble Community Church, headquartered in a compound in remote north-east Washington.

  • Broadcaster and Shea lieutenant Jack Robertson, also known as John Jacob Schmidt.

  • Patriot movement activist and Malheur standoff participant Anthony Bosworth. Bosworth runs a patriot movement group called Liberty For All, once ran for Yakima county sheriff, and was charged with assaulting his daughter in downtown Yakima.

Also present in the chat were a number of rightwing activists, some from the region incorporating eastern Washington, north Idaho, and surrounding areas, which they have christened “the American Redoubt”. These activists included:

  • Former Spokane county employee and retired air force officer John Christina.

  • Former candidate for Washington commissioner of public lands Steve McLaughlin, who told the SPLC in 2016 that he was pulling back from involvement the patriot movement

  • Jay Pounder, a former Shea confidant who leaked the chats to the Guardian.

Shea and the other sitting legislator, Heather Scott, are members of the chat for its entire length, and both weigh in on a wide range of topics.

The Guardian confirmed participants by cross-checking phone numbers in the chat with public phone records.

Civil war

Participants frequently expressed a belief civil war was coming.

In particular, they were exercised by false rumors of an “antifa insurrection” on 4 November 2017, which circulated widely in far right and conservative media throughout the previous month.

During that month, the chat also circulated false news, unattributed memes and fabricated intelligence about the supposedly impending insurrection.

The Guardian previously reported on the messages of a smaller chat involving members of this larger group, which was also planning for the supposed antifa uprising. That chat saw Bosworth and Robertson fantasizing about sadistic violence, and promoting surveillance and opposition research about local activists.

At one point in late October 2017, the larger chat took an unattributed meme listing supposed “planned riots” in the region to be accurate.

This led to chat members ventilating fantasies of a violent response.

“Sometimes, ya just gotta go out and pick a fight with the philistines,” Robertson wrote on 29 October 2017. “Knock some heads. Bring back some foreskins. Lol!”

Later that day, Jack Robertson wrote: “We could have a contest … see how many communists we could knock out, before getting knocked out or arrested!”

Bosworth responded: “OK. Now this is starting to sound fun.”

But there were no protests in the region, and only small ones in other parts of the country: peaceful events which had been planned by a group associated with the Revolutionary Communist party.

Other events were taken as portents of civil war.

In July 2018, when the Trump-backed congressional challenger Katie Arrington was badly injured in a car crash after ousting Mark Sanford in a primary, the chat took it as a sign of impending civil collapse.

“Every day shows more and more we are sitting on the edge of civil war between two governmental factions. I don’t think we’re going to make six years before we see shots fired,” Bosworth remarked.

Christina replied: “Agreed. Banana republic sums it up quite well. Never thought I would see it come to my country in my lifetime.”

Islam and leftists

Islam – a frequent bugbear in Shea’s public speeches – is seen in dark hues by many members of the chat. Muslims and leftists are held to be working together to subvert the United States.

Violent, paranoid reveries were aired about both groups by members of the chat.

In December 2017, Robertson warned: “Expect acid throwing attacks. Low tech, low cost. Effective and brutal. Since the announcement of moving out embassy to Jerusalem, things are about to get sporty. Be vigilant when you travel to large metro areas.”

In February 2018, after accepting as true faked photographs of Parkland shooter Nicholas Cruz that depicted him as a leftist, the group ventilated more violent fantasies and conspiracy theories.

“The communist bastards need to be shot,” Bosworth wrote.

“Communist Islam,” Shea responded.

In May 2018, Shea wrote: “Please remember tomorrow is the first day of Ramadan begins Tuesday/Wednesday. Higher likelihood of terror attacks.”

Robertson days later wrote: “Wow. Ramadan began yesterday. Avoid crowds when possible, be vigilant, stay armed, and keep a combat rifle accessible when practical.”

Leftists are equally feared and despised in the chats. In June 2018, the chat responded to news of the occupation of an Ice facility in Portland with more fantasies of violence and vigilantism.

Bosworth said of potential police violence at the facility: “I don’t agree with federal agents clubbing them. I think they should let the people club the commies.”

Robertson responded: “Agreed! Commies should get the baby seal treatment from the citizens.”

Bosworth later added: “The American people need to stomp communism into the dust. They need to be hunted down and destroyed. It’s not the government’s job to do it. It is ours, the rightful heirs to liberty fought and won by our founders.”

Requests for surveillance on perceived political opponents also permeate the chat, many coming from Shea.

He asked whether a local conservative is a “friend or foe” and at one point Bosworth shared images of what appears to be the FBI file of a Shea critic.

Liberty state

A central topic in the chats is the campaign to carve out a 51st state from eastern Washington, to be named Liberty state.

The campaign for Liberty state has underpinned activism in the Shea network, but has also provoked fears among opponents who believe that proponents are seeking to implement a dominionist theocracy.

At one point Bosworth asked if they can shake off federal and state control: “People need to know what the new state is going to look like. Is it going to operate without federal control? If so our first step would be to show the people of the new state that we can operate without Olympia’s control.”

Later in the chat, McLaughlin offered a view of what a successful Liberty state movement would look like: “People standing up and applying the elements of power to undo lies, destroy the commie movement and taking political control. Elements of power are economic, diplomatic, information dominance and force.”

Elsewhere, speaking of Liberty state opponents, Jack Robertson opined that “skull-stomping godless communists does have a very strong appeal”.

Heather Scott replied: “Sounds like the name of a rock band.”

Bosworth replied: “I’m all for Christians doing some skull stomping in defense of their faith.”

G2

Apart from direct participants, the chat sees the repeated dissemination of intelligence from outside sources. One source, described in the chat only as “G2”, frequently provided alarming updates on geopolitical events.

His prognostications were of intense interest to the group, including Shea, and taken to indicate impending global catastrophe.

Christina was the contact with G2, and would relay messages to the group.

Members, including Shea, would solicit updates from G2 on international incidents. Solicitations of G2’s advice occur throughout the chats, and members treat him as an authoritative source.

On November 6 2017, Shea asked: “A lot coming out right now about DPRK [North Korea]. What is the status with G2?”

A chance remark about a family death has allowed the Guardian to identify G2 as Ronald Jessee, Christina’s nephew, who runs a popular “open source intelligence” Twitter account called Intellipus.

On Twitter, the Intellipus account has 48,000 followers. But according to his LinkedIn page, 42-year-old Jessee has never worked in any military or intelligence capacity, and his last listed employment was with an open-source intelligence startup which folded in 2018.

James Allsup

The group engages in extended, and ultimately supportive conversation about James Allsup, a white nationalist, Charlottesville marcher and far-right personality who was excluded from the Washington State University College Republicans, and eventually the Spokane county GOP, for neo-Nazi associations.

The group began discussing Allsup just days after the Daily Beast published a story about him being elected as a precinct committee officer for the local Republican party.

After prolonged conversation in which Robertson, in particular, defended Allsup after local Republicans “threw this guy under the bus”, Shea proposed they contact Allsup. “Here’s my two cents. Anthony I think you should reach out to him and if he is legit (not racist or a plant) make an ally.”

None of the named chat participants with the exception of Jay Pounder responded to the Guardian’s requests for comment. Sitting legislators Shea and Scott did not respond to detailed requests made by email.

Related: Far-right leader and Washington officers face civil rights lawsuit over violent incident

Pounder himself was an active participant in the chats and in Shea’s movement until late last year. “I was on board. I was a believer until I had a moment of conscience,” he said in a telephone conversation.

Still a devout Christian, he said: “God got a hold of my heart and told me, no man, this isn’t the way it’s meant to be.”

Shea remains under investigation by the Rampart Group, which was hired by the clerk of the Washington state house to “assess the level of threat of political violence posed by these individuals and groups” associated with Shea, following reporting in the Guardian and local outlets about secret chats and documents produced by Shea’s network. They are due to present their report on 1 December.

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