When Matt Shea, the Washington state legislator with deep ties to right-wing extremists and a history of dalliances with domestic terrorists, finally stepped aside in 2020, he anointed a relatively unknown Republican named Rob Chase as his successor in his Spokane Valley district. Little was known about the much less bombastic Chase.
Two years later, we know a lot: Not only has Chase proven to be a classic right-wing conspiracy theorist—dabbling in QAnon, 9/11 “truther,” and FEMA concentration camp theories, not to mention his ardent embrace of Donald Trump’s claims of fraud in the 2020 election—he’s also continued Shea’s legacy of promoting far-right politics within the state Legislature. A recent in-depth report by Wilson Criscione of InvestigateWest explores how Chase’s mild-mannered brand of extremism, in fact, may actually be more effective—and problematic—than Shea’s.
Shea personally recruited Chase, the former Spokane County Treasurer, to run for his seat in 2020. Chase’s fondness for conspiracism was first revealed in late August that year in an interview with Daniel Walters of The Inlander, in which Chase affably meandered through a laundry list of conspiracy theories: JFK’s assassination, Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Freemasons running the Vatican, and various QAnon-related theories about Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and COVID-19 denialism.
"There is a deep state — there is a shadow government that's been behind the scenes for, gosh, a century probably," Chase told Walters.
Since winning the seat in 2020, though, Chase has become focused particularly on Trump’s election denialism, and has increasingly used his official position in the Legislature to promote it. As Criscione reports, Chase has led a push among his fellow Republicans to question the legitimacy of the entire election process, including Washington state’s popular vote-by-mail system.
The next year, Chase penned an open letter to Washington’s then-secretary of state, Kim Wyman, in which he claimed that the 2020 election results (including, apparently, his own) were “fraudulent.” He demanded an independent audit, “or else we need [to] decertify the election results.”
Chase also introduced bills in the Legislature for such an audit, but they died in committee. He also signed a petition demanding Spokane County’s 2020 election results be audited.
He is unapologetic about his conspiracism. He told Criscione that he doesn’t consider his views fringe or extremist, claiming that 50 years before, such views would have been considered mainstream.
“You should be able to read whatever you want without being chastised for it,” Chase said.
Chase also has avidly spread COVID-19-related conspiracy theories on his Facebook page. He has labeled the COVID vaccine untested and “not a vaccine,” claiming it is “created by Eugenecists who want a smaller Global population.” He told Criscione that when he contracted a COVID infection, he took the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, a popular alternative treatment among COVID conspiracists that has been demonstrated to have no effect on the disease.
He also has been an active proponent of Shea’s proposal to split Washington state in half, creating a new state called “Liberty” from the eastern half—though Chase has now renamed it simply to “East Washington” in the bills he has introduced in the Legislature, which has drawn a handful of supporters in Olympia. He told Criscione that the idea is especially popular with his constituents, claiming they’re sick of the more heavily populated western half of the state dictating policy for the eastern half.
Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, observed that Chase’s mild-mannered demeanor might make him more effective at delivering misinformation and far-right ideology than Shea.
“I think they’re equally dangerous,” said Burghart. “I think that Shea is more adept at stirring up the base, whereas Chase is a better vehicle for moving far-right ideas from the margins into the mainstream.”
Since leaving the Legislature, Shea has focused primarily on building the Spokane Valley congregation, On Fire Ministries, where he is the pastor. He continues to spread far-right conspiracist ideas while speaking on the stump, and his flock in Spokane Valley included members of the neofascist Patriot Front gang that attempted to riot at the Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene in June.
Like his protégé, Shea also has been ardently promoting election denialism. He recently announced that On Fire Ministries would be hosting a “training session” for “poll watchers” to stand guard at Washington state’s ballot drop boxes at multiple locations in the Spokane area. Some of his allies in the right-wing “election integrity” movement already attempted similar tactics in the Seattle area during the July primary.
And like his mentor, Chase has a high tolerance for white nationalists and other racist extremists. In 2021, he hired the former chair of Spokane County’s Republican Party, who resigned in disgrace after a video surfaced in which she defended and praised white nationalist James Allsup. Chase told reporters that he is opposed to white nationalism, but considered the matter with Allsup to be a free-speech issue.
“I thought it was a hit job. She did nothing wrong,” Chase said of her resignation. “People have the right to speak.”
In his interview with Criscione, Chase dismissed suggestions that his politics are dangerous, saying he’s “not a threat to anybody.” He insisted he is only representing his Spokane County constituents, where he estimates that at least 30% of the voters are “grassroots” Republicans like he is.
“How can 30% of the county be a fringe group?” Chase asked.
“His profile has definitely grown among far-rightists in the last couple of years. He has essentially replaced Matt Shea in that context as the pipeline into the Legislature, at least for folks in Eastern Washington,” Burghart said.