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Montana Viewpoint: Vigilante lawlessness

 

December 26, 2019



A Washington state representative, Matt Shea, a Republican representing Spokane Valley, has been accused of acts of domestic terrorism by an independent investigative report commissioned by the state’s house of representatives. In response to the report the Republican leadership of the legislature has stripped Shea of his leadership duties, committee assignments, membership in the Republican caucus, and called upon him to resign from the Legislature. The seriousness of the accusation is reflected in his rapid censure by House Republican leadership. The Washington House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats.

The report found that Shea “planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States government.” The conflicts include the 2014 armed standoff over the grazing violations of Cliven Bundy in Bunkerville, Nevada, and the armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, led by Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan. The report finds that Shea was instrumental in developing the strategy in the Malheur incident.

Shea repeatedly turned down opportunities to be interviewed by the investigators.

According to the report Shea is a leader in the “Patriot” movement and has ties with state legislators and other elected officials in Montana, Washington, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.

What is most disconcerting about all this is the willingness of individuals and small groups to interpret the laws of our nation as they feel fit, accusing innocent individuals of transgressing those laws and suggesting how they should be punished. For instance, Shea, in a manifesto entitled “The Biblical Basis for War” states “If they do not yield [to the rules in the manifesto] kill all males.” The manifesto was leaked by two men who once worked for Shea.

It is important to remember that we have laws which protect every American from criminal acts. They protect you, me, and people we like and dislike. They are supposed to be applied equally and fairly, and for the most part, they are. As Americans, we know what those laws are and whether we are acting within those laws.

But the laws and constitutional interpretations dreamt up by fringe groups are another matter. The average citizen has no protection against them because they do not know that they even exist. They therefore become subject to summary judgement by vigilantes acting outside the legitimate laws of the land.

Whether we agree with existing laws or not, we know that they have been developed by an open and fair process based on the United States Constitution, court decisions and legislative action. The important words here are “open” and “process.” That is exactly what is missing in the way the “laws” of vigilantism are created. In America the laws are determined in proceedings open to the public and subject to public scrutiny and acceptance. In vigilantism the “laws” are created out of no process but the beliefs of a small minority of people. They are not subject to review or approval by the American public.

We live in a country where we have freedom of speech and freedom of thought. That cannot be abrogated. But we do not live in a country where we have the freedom of deciding which laws to obey and the freedom to make up our own set of laws that we want others to abide by.

Even more disconcerting is that citizens have unknowingly elected people with vigilante beliefs to state and local offices. This confers a title and authority to those who should have neither.

The Washington State House of Representatives has sent the report to the FBI. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knesovich, a Republican, recently told reporters, “I believe there is enough evidence to charge Shea with domestic terrorism if not treason.”

You can read the report at http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6589242-Shea-WA-House-Report/html

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Viewpoint appears in weekly papers across Montana and online at missoulacurrent.com.

 

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