The people promoting the creation of a “Christianity-based” 51st state carved out of what is currently eastern Washington have begun moving beyond just talking about it and planning for it. Now they are promoting it to the voters they need to convince to secede from Washington state—talking to local reporters, setting up booths at county fairs, and adamantly denying their extremism.
Liberty State representatives held a press conference on Tuesday in Moses Lake in which they depicted themselves as completely mainstream conservatives who are simply tired of urban, liberal Seattle dictating politics in their conservative counties—and adamantly denied that they are far-right extremists intent on creating a religious Christian state in which nonbelievers could be put to death.
“When both are a plague to each other because of natural cultural differences, and both would be much happier without the other, there’s only one solution that works very well for both sides,” said Liberty State spokesperson René Holaday. “And that is the amiable formation of the new state of Liberty that both sides agree would be the best win-win situation.”
The proposed new state is the brainchild of Republican state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley, his cohorts in the far-right Marble, Washington, “Patriot” community, and the associated “American Redoubt” movement based in northern Idaho. Essentially apocalyptic in nature, Shea and his fellow Liberty State advocates see it as a necessary preparation for when the rest of the world falls apart.
Earlier this year, reporters exposed Shea’s ruminations about what the new state would look like, and how it would behave, in a document titled “Biblical Basis for War” that was essentially an outline for war against its fellow states. Under “Rules of War,” it stipulates that “war is not waged against nations but against man,” and that one should “make an offer of peace before declaring war.” However: “If they do not yield—kill all males.”
Shea and his fellow advocates have claimed these were just theoretical chatter, and that their purpose in seceding from Washington state is simply to create a place where guns are no longer regulated as they are currently in the state, and where there are fewer regulations generally, creating more “freedom.”
As reporter Leah Sottile has documented extensively, the northeastern Washington community of Marble—dominated by a single Dominionist Christian church that at one time was affiliated with the racist Christian Identity movement—is the chief nexus of the Liberty State organizing. Much of it—with Shea’s avid participation—has entailed making preparations for violence with guns and other weapons. “Their whole thing is, ‘The world is evil and the government is evil’,” a longtime Marble resident told her. “[They want] to get back to Puritan America.”
She described how Shea led workshops for young campers: “An exercise in field skills for youth, including (but not limited to): field strip and reassemble assigned weapon; orienteering, field dressing wounds, following orders, PT, shooting skill, etc.” He titled his after-dinner session “Going Underground.”
Shea has come under fire from his fellow Republicans, both in the Legislature and elsewhere. “I truly believe it’s time for the leadership of the Republican Party in the state of Washington, his peers, to step up and have the courage and the integrity to do the right thing,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. “If he will not step down, they need to work to remove him.”
However, the Liberty State spokespeople this week attempted to create distance between themselves and Shea. “While Rep. Shea struck the match, Liberty state is about we the people,” Holaday told the assembled reporters and campaign volunteers in Moses Lake. “And we’re just happy he was willing to introduce the bill on our behalf. He is being attacked because he and the Republican freedom agenda have worked very hard over the past decade to block Democrat actions. It is my belief that the west side would be much happier without that large group of Republicans working so hard against them all the time.”
They also claimed that there would be no religious requirements in their new state, despite Shea’s insistence that it would be founded on “Christian principles.” Holaday told the Moses Lake audience that “all religions would be welcome, Native American treaty rights would be respected and residents would have unfettered gun and property rights.”
The Liberty State website includes an announcement explaining that county coordinators had been manning booths at fairs all summer, and were gathering signatures for petitions asking county commissioners to place an advisory vote on their ballots in February 2020.
This past weekend, Liberty State activists manned a booth at the Spokane County Interstate Fair, selling T-shirts and yard signs and passing out flyers. However, none of them was willing to speak to a reporter from KHQ-6 News.
A supporter did voice the underlying view, saying, “People in eastern Washington are brushed aside, disrespected, disregarded and disdained by liberals in Thurston and King County.”
It’s not clear whether or not the concept has public support. The Liberty State website directs readers to a Facebook poll conducted in January by an eastern Washington TV station that ended with 71% support for secession and 29% opposed, with 12,200 votes.
Comments on that poll were typical of the sentiments voiced by Liberty supporters. “Absolutely. We are tired of being disenfranchised. We haven't elected a state senator or governor for over 30 years. We are tired of being dictated to by the socialists of King County and Seattle,” one read.
Others weren’t satisfied with simply seceding from Washington. “I don’t even want a star, keep the US flag the same. I just want out,” wrote one supporter.