The Arizona connections to ‘domestic terrorism’ advocate Matt Shea

By: - January 6, 2020 11:17 am

Washington State Rep. Matt Shea. Photo by Thestevo | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

A Washington state lawmaker accused of participating in acts of domestic terrorism by an independent report commissioned by his own legislature has connections to two former elected officials in Arizona. 

Matt Shea had been a key figure in multiple armed standoffs that took place between federal authorities in Oregon, Nevada and Idaho from 2014 to 2016. 

Shea, a Republican lawyer first elected in 2008, was suspended from Washington’s House Republican Caucus and stripped of his position as the ranking member of the House Environment and Energy Committee after the report was released. 

The report claims that Shea gave information on the movements and tactics of law enforcement to groups who were being monitored during incidents such as the high-profile standoff between the FBI and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. 

The report details the ways Shea and his group, the Coalition of Western States, often referred to as COWS, worked behind the scenes to provide information, intelligence and logistical support. 

COWS also included members who are residents of Arizona, two of whom were elected officials at the time. 

Arizona elected officials

Robert Corbell was elected to the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors from 2013-16. He’s also a member of COWS. 

Corbell has been vocal in the past about his role in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. However, the report sheds additional light on his and COWS’ roles in the occupation. 

On Jan. 2, 2016, armed men seized the wildlife refuge and occupied it until Feb. 11. Ammon Bundy led the occupation to protest what he believed were the wrongful convictions of fellow ranchers. 

Ammon Bundy is the son of rancher Cliven Bundy, has been a key figure in the militia movement and was a central figure in the 2014 standoff in Nevada between his father and federal authorities.  

Corbell in March told Oregon public radio station OPB that he had met Shea at the Bundy ranch years earlier to discuss “sovereignty” and how to get laws changed. 

“So, we went to the casino at the state line, and in the motel room there … we created COWS,” Corbell said about the meeting in April 2014. Corbell also told OPB that he knew that the occupation was likely going to happen, something that investigators noted in the report on Shea.   

Another video shows Corbell with Shea, speaking from the Bundy ranch during the 2014 standoff in Nevada. 

“The Constitution is being trampled on and people are finally standing up, thank God and God bless,” Corbell says in the video.

Corbell often shares anti-government and conspiracy theory posts on his personal Facebook page, some involving the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, a frequent target of COWS, Shea and the Bundys. 

Corbell screen shot
A story shared by Corbell to a now defunct link.

Corbell is not the only former elected official from Arizona linked to COWS and Shea. 

Barry Weller, who was elected to on the Apache County Board of Supervisors from 2013-16, was also in the 2014 video. 

“I’m here to support the Bundys and I’m here to support the process,” Weller says in the video. “I’m here to call all those thousands of other supervisors to stand up for their citizens.” 

Weller is also mentioned in the report as a member of COWS. 

In 2016, Weller made news after speaking in favor of a bill in the Arizona legislature that would split Apache County at Interstate 40. Lawmakers have been debating similar proposals for decades, and Gov. Bruce Babbitt in 1982 vetoed a bill that would have created a predominantly Navajo county, calling it racial legislation.

One of Weller’s fellow supervisors said he believed Weller’s advocacy for the measure was racially motivated. Weller said his support of the measure, which would have divided the predominantly white part Apache County he represented away from the Navajo parts of the county, was economic in nature and not motivated by race.

Corbell and Weller did not respond to requests for comment. 

Other notable Arizonans

The report names other Arizona figures who participated in both the Malheur and the Bundy Ranch standoffs. 

Former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, is a member of COWS and, according to confidential sources, helped Shea plan the Malheur takeover, the report said.  

Mack denied helping to organize the takeover or having any advance knowledge of it.

“That’s a lie,” Mack told Arizona Mirror. He said he was unaware of the armed takeover and later told Ammon Bundy he was opposed to the idea: “I had no idea it was heading towards that sort of escalation.”

Investigators in Washington interviewed Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward in Oregon, whom Mack and others approached prior to the takeover of the Malheur refuge. 

In November 2015, Ammon Bundy and others told the sheriff that if he did not intercede on behalf of father-and-son ranchers in Oregon who were charged with arson amid a land dispute with BLM that they would “bring thousands of people here to do your job for you” and that they would create “civil unrest.”

Dwight and Steven Hammond had been convicted of arson on federal land that they say they started to stop an invasive plant from growing further into their cattle grazing fields. President Donald Trump later pardoned them on the arson charges.  

Within an hour of Bundy leaving, Mack called Ward and spoke very highly of the Bundy family. Mack later participated in a protest march involving the Hammonds. Some men broke off from that protest to take over the refuge, though Mack was not a part of the actual takeover. 

According to the report, Mack told Ward that the sheriff could “get out from under the situation” by taking the Hammonds into his custody and simply charging them with crimes they didn’t commit so “the Feds” couldn’t have them and they would be adjudicated. 

Ward said this suggestion was similar to one in a letter he’d received from Cliven Bundy. 

Shea was also a featured speaker at one of Mack’s events in 2013. 

Mack told the Mirror he hasn’t been active in COWS for at least four years, and said if he ever received one of the intel emails that Shea was sending out during the Malheur standoff, he likely didn’t notice because “it was so innocuous that it had no lasting effect on me,” adding that he “never saw anything that promoted violence or domestic terrorism.”

The former sheriff said he did call Ward and said they’re “on pretty good terms.” Mack said none of the investigators reached out to him and he questioned their motivations. 

The report mentions Peoria resident Jon Ritzheimer, who organized an infamous Phoenix mosque protest and used to sell products featuring the slogan “Fuck Islam.” Ritzheimer was a participant in the Malheur takeover. He was arrested and later eventually struck a plea deal to federal conspiracy charges for his role in the standoff. He was not a member of Shea’s group. 

Ritzheimer did not respond to a request for comment.

Arizona resident Lyle Rapacki, the vice chairman of COWS and an online columnist who pens articles about alleged satan worship at naval bases and the QAnon conspiracy theory that liberal elites run a global cabal of pedophiles, received email updates from Shea about the Malheur takeover that included military style protocols and information, according to the Washington legislature’s report. 

It is unclear if Rapacki had any role in Shea’s intelligence reports that he had been allegedly giving to those involved in the armed standoffs in Nevada and Oregon. Rapacki did not respond to a request for comment. 

The report also mentions Arizona resident Cope Reynolds as a member of COWS and a recipient of the intelligence emails that Shea was sending out during the standoffs. Reynolds is the owner of a gun shop in Pinetop that disallows anyone who voted for President Barack Obama from entering the store. Reynolds did not respond to a request for comment.

The full report can be read below: 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.