Way back in 2019, when this sort of thing was more frowned upon, a Washington state legislator was accused of having “planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States government” by an investigation commissioned by the very legislative body he served in. That legislator, Matt Shea, understandably did not seek re-election.
But now, the accused domestic terrorist apparently has a new pastime: Shea is now in Poland, along with 62 Ukrainian children that he says he helped evacuate out of the war-torn country.
In a March 8 Facebook post, Shea, whose wife is from Ukraine, announced that he had been “on the ground in Ukraine and Poland” for about a week. He said he “took in a team to rescue” the children from an orphanage in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, after he’d been on the phone with his “prospective daughters” and heard gunfire in the background.
Shea’s presence in Poland was reported early Wednesday by the Seattle Times, about a week after Shea appeared on the Polish TV show Idź Pod Prąd. On that show, Shea said he was working with a Texas group called Loving Families and Homes for Orphans.
The group, he said, “is a hosting organization that hosts Ukrainian orphans in America with Ukrainian families with the intent that ultimately that ends in adoption.”
But Polish locals have some questions about Shea and his operation, the Seattle Times and the Spokesman-Review reported. (The latter outlet is based in Spokane, Washington. Shea represented Spokane Valley while in the state Legislature.) The Ukrainian children are now staying in a Polish town called Kazimierz Dolny, the newspapers reported. Two locals told the Spokesman-Review that, on Sunday, Shea refused to let Polish volunteers or doctors see them. That set off alarm bells.
“The conversation wasn’t very pleasant, to be honest,” one local, a woman who works in the town’s mayoral office, told the Spokesman-Review. The same woman told the Seattle Times, “I got the feeling in my gut that something’s wrong with this guy. He didn’t want to tell me his last name.”
After that initial refusal, however, local authorities were allowed to check in on the kids, according to the Spokesman-Review, which also reported that Shea has denied any plans to take the children out of Poland. In a Facebook post, the town’s mayor said that the children are being well cared for and that authorities are looking into the case.
Shea didn’t reply to a VICE News request for comment on Wednesday, but in a Thursday morning Facebook post, he attempted to clarify what he was up to.
“We speak with Ukrainian government officials almost daily and currently all adoptions and hosting programs are on hold, understandably,” he wrote in a post. The National Council for Adoption, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and UNICEF have all said that it’s not an appropriate time for U.S. citizens to adopt Ukrainian children, given the tumult of war.
Shea also addressed questions about the website for Loving Families and Homes for Orphans, which wasn’t working when VICE News attempted to visit it on Wednesday but is now operable. The website, Shea said, “has been “working perfectly for months and every day we have been here.”
Loving Families and Homes for Orphans didn’t immediately reply to a VICE News request for comment.
The U.S. State Department is now monitoring the situation, the Spokesman-Review reported.
“There are lies and rumors that somehow we want to sell these children. The most outrageous, I think, was that we wanted to sell them for organ harvesting or something like this,” Shea said on the Polish TV show on March 10. “This is Russian-style propaganda and only Russian-style propaganda could turn a rescue mission of orphans to a resort-style facility that has basketball hoops and a soccer field. We’re even coordinating horse therapy which is for trauma. It also has medical care, psychological care. Only Russian-style propaganda could turn something that good into something that bad.”
When asked about the allegations that he’s been involved with domestic terrorism, Shea said that that kind of talk was “offensive.”
“The interaction that I’ve had with terrorists is fighting against them in Iraq and Bosnia,” he said. He said that there had never been a criminal investigation into the allegations and “no interviews, nothing like that.”
It is true that Shea declined to be interviewed for the 2019 independent investigation, which was commissioned by the Washington State House of Representatives. That investigation, which took four months, involved more than 230 news articles and documents as well as interviews with individuals who knew Shea. It linked Shea to conflicts against the U.S. government in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and specifically concluded Shea had participated “in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” through his alleged involvement with an armed takeover and standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016. State police shot and killed one individual during that occupation.
The investigation also reported that Shea was involved in training young adults for a “holy war,” created a pamphlet called “Biblical Basis for War,” and “advocated the replacement of U.S. democracy with a theocracy and the killing of all males who do not agree.”
Shortly after the release of the investigation’s findings, Shea slammed it as a “sham investigation” and compared it to attacks on former President Donald Trump. He added, “Stand strong, fellow Patriots.”
In the years since his departure from the state Legislature, Shea has been associated with the anti-abortion group The Church at Planned Parenthood, which grew out of a network of Christian nationalist churches. Last spring, the Spokesman-Review reported that Shea was no longer affiliated with the group. Shea is now senior pastor of his own congregation, known as On Fire Ministries.