Washington Legislature Report a Strong First Step in Ending Domestic Terrorism

Last week, the Republican Party of Washington unveiled a detailed investigation finding that state legislator Matt Shea (R-Spokane) “participated in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” in aiding and abetting the Bundy militants in their takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. In response, Republican House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox called for Shea’s resignation, and Rep. Shea was expelled from the Republican caucus.

According to the report, Shea was also was an active participant in the 2014 Bunkerville incident in Nevada and a 2015 armed insurrection in Priest River, Idaho. The report states,

“Representative Shea, as a leader in the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States (US) Government in three states outside the State of Washington over a three-year period to include 2014, 2015 and 2016. In one conflict Representative Shea led covert strategic pre-planning in advance of the conflict; continued support to an armed occupation conflict of a Federal Government facility that lasted 41 days resulting in devastating financial, physical and emotional harm to a community and its residents; and the loss of one life.”

As shocking as this is, Shea is only one of many local and state politicians linked with the Bundy movement and its armed efforts to take possession of federal lands. Idaho Rep. Heather Scott was also named in the report for planning, engaging in, or supporting three separate armed conflicts within the United States. And, according to media reports, former Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore has been an outspoken proponent of the Bundys, and traveled to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 to support the militants. Phil Lyman, now a Utah legislator, was jailed for his role in leading an illegal off-road-vehicle ride in 2014 through the sensitive cliff dwellings of Recapture Canyon while he was a San Juan County Commissioner. State representative Bob Thorpe of Arizona was one of five Republican legislators who organized a caravan in 2014 to support the armed insurgents at Bunkerville.

The domestic terrorism report names names and lists particulars; named political leaders should be subjected to criminal investigation to determine whether they violated any laws.

The anti-government sentiment is also alive and well in Washington, D.C. The interim director of the BLM, William Perry Pendley, wrote an op-ed instructing federal law enforcement, “[L]ocal law enforcement bears primary responsibility for enforcing state and federal law,” and federal law enforcement officers “are there to assist” while ‘[m]aintaining that deference” to local officials on public lands. It’s an upside-down worldview, but it specifically implements the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, whose Statement of Positions explicitly directs, “County Sheriffs…should take their rightful position and use their authority to assist in the transfer of control of the [federal] land, and prosecution of violation of citizens’ rights by federal authorities.”

The Constitutional Sheriffs too have been linked to the Bundys’ occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and one of their members, Sheriff Glenn Palmer of Grant County, Oregon, reportedly sided with the armed militants during the Wildlife Refuge takeover.

In response to Pendley’s remarks, conservationists and the outdoor industry have begun to call for Pendley’s ouster.

Meanwhile, back to Representative Shea: the new report states that Rep. Shea actively participated in the 2014 armed standoff at Bunkerville, Nevada, wherein Cliven Bundy’s family called in militia support to prevent federal officers from rounding up his long-trespassing cattle and racking up $1.3 million in unpaid fines and rent while degrading fragile habitats for the rare desert tortoise. Federal courts ruled in 2013 that this grazing is illegal, have rejected the claim that the federal government cannot own public lands as baseless, and have ordered the Bundys’ cattle off. Federal circuit court precedent states that “No individuals have a right to graze livestock on the federal land at issue without authorization from the United States” and “[a]nyone who enters or uses federal land [for livestock grazing] without authorization is in violation of federal statutes and regulations, and is a trespasser.” State courts subsequently dismissed claims that the federal lands the Bundys had grown accustomed to using were actually state property. Where are the federal prosecutors, to bring contempt of court charges for the Bundys’ ongoing livestock trespass? Where are the federal marshals, to march the Bundys off to court?

The report finds that Rep. Shea helped plan the stockpiling of arms and munitions and making arrangements for snipers – against the federal government. The Washington legislature is right to recognize this as domestic terrorism.

The Bundy-led insurrections, far from being isolated incidents, are simply the best-publicized of many acts of bullying and intimidation perpetrated by public-lands ranchers. In Nevada, three separate bombings targeted BLM employees in Nevada at their homes and offices in 1993 and 1995. In Oregon, the Hammond family made “a thick file” of death threats against Malheur National Wildlife refuge managers in the 1980s and 1990s; the Hammonds later had their federal grazing privileges revoked. In Nevada, ranchers effectively laid siege to the BLM’s Battle Mountain office in 2014 and 2015 over livestock trespassing onto public lands closed to grazing. In Piute County, Utah, Sheriff Marty Gleave threatened to arrest Forest Service employees in 2016 if further cuts were made to the number of cattle his relative was permitted to graze on national forest lands. This kind of behavior is not uncommon in the realm of public lands ranching.

The Washington state legislature is showing other government agencies how it’s done in calling out domestic terrorism within their jurisdiction. Now it’s time for some leadership in Washington D.C.

Erik Molvar is Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, and environmental conservation nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife throughout the American West.


Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and is the Laramie, Wyoming-based Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife on western public lands.