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Matt Shea hosts ‘Season of Revival’ events with Christian nationalists


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Matt Shea hosts ‘Season of Revival’ events with Christian nationalists

As the 2024 election approaches, Matt Shea is hosting a spate of events with prominent Christian nationalist figures — including former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — in preparation for a ‘season of revival’ and, Shea hopes, a remaking of Washington in the Christian God’s image.

News Story Aaron Hedge | RANGE Media

Former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has a friend in Fall River, Massachusetts, who represents two bastions of American patriotism: law enforcement and baseball. 

“He’s a police officer,” Flynn told a crowd of about 200 people April 26 at On Fire Ministries, Matt Shea’s charismatic church in the University District. A detective, to be precise. “And now, cops don’t get paid enough,” Flynn said, “so on the side, they do extra work.”

While police officers working private security on the side is common, Flynn said his friend’s side hustle is different: turning wooden baseball bats for high school teams, which he then paints with the instantly recognizable stars and stripes of the American flag. 

Flynn held up one of those star-spangled bats on the church stage, standing in front of a large screen displaying the flag, with two actual flags flanking the screen on either side, totaling four American flags behind a pulpit — a palpable representation of the fusion of the Christian religion with patriotism. 

Flynn: Christian nationalist celebrity

Flynn rose to national prominence as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, a position he held for just 22 days. He resigned after he was found to have lied about working with a Russian official in the lead up to the 2016 election. Those 22 days were enough to propel him to a place of prominence within various parts of the far-right. His celebrity in these circles is such that there has even been a market for Flynn paraphernalia: At a 2021 QAnon conference, a bat Flynn had signed sold for $8,000.

Flynn’s flame stays alight today partially because he has remained close to Trump. If elected, Trump said he wants to bring Flynn back into the federal government. 

“I don’t give these out very often,” said Flynn. From the stage, he beckoned to Shea, who sat in the front row. “And on this bat, I put Isaiah 6:8” — which reads, in part “Here am I, send me” — “It says, ‘Love of country, and then the Pledge of Allegiance is ingrained on it.” 

Shea — a former soldier himself who also left a long career in government after being accused of inappropriate activities, in Shea’s case, helping militants occupy a federal wildlife refuge in 2016 — bounded spryly up and  accepted the gift, taking a couple of practice swings with the bat. 

Establishing a Christian nation

The image of the two former Army officers standing on the stage of an evangelical church dripping in American flags was appropriate for the occasion — it was one event in a series this spring hosted or promoted by Shea across the Pacific Northwest, from Coeur d’Alene to Olympia, with the aim of preparing his flock to fight to establish a Christian nation.

While there are many flavors of Christian nationalism — some as simple as the belief that the United States was founded on and should be run according to biblical values — many of the characters Shea associates with and the values he promotes on his show embody some of its most extreme elements. For example, Shea often hosts guests on his show who are dedicated to exonerating the heavily Christian nationalist crowd of rioters that invaded the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021. On his show, the pastor has cited Genesis 10, which contains a passage titled “The Table of Nations,” saying, “God established nations, so God is by definition a nationalist.”

After being given the bat, Shea retook his seat next to Spokane County Republican district leader Rob Linebarger, who attended the event along with other officials from the Spokane County GOP, including district leaders Natalie Poulson, Nora Monroe and Mark Anthony.

Flynn’s History of the Pledge

Flynn, who was pardoned by Trump after pleading guilty to charges of lying to the FBI in 2017, said the United States was under assault from people who wanted to take the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance and generally continue the separation of church from state — a threat Shea invokes almost weekly on his radio broadcast. He said part of the antidote to that onslaught is reciting the pledge with special attention to the God clause.

“What I want people to understand is that the pledge is really a pledge to something that’s much greater than ourselves,” Flynn told the crowd, recounting the addition of the phrase “under God” to the pledge in 1954. “And I love the fact that they added ‘under God,’ because” they believed, “and it is true, that this nation was built on a set of Judeo-Christian principles and values.”

Flynn then led the congregation in the pledge.

‘Fifth-generation warfare’

Flynn was at Shea’s church that night for a screening of the documentary “Into the Light,” which filmmaker Mike Smith, who was also there, billed as an exposé of “fifth-generation warfare.” That’s the idea that modern warfare is not waged primarily on a battlefield but in the digital sphere, in the form of “psy-ops” to influence culture. 

Like many American Christians, Flynn believes the U.S. Constitution is biblically inspired and that the country is locked in a “spiritual war.” 

Shea frequently talks about how fifth-generation warfare is used by “communists and jihadis” to target Christians in the United States. 

“Into the Light” has echoes of an understanding of surveillance capitalism advanced by the academic Shoshana Zuboff — that social media users are the raw crude product of the digital advertising industry, creating an environment in which people have lost the right to control their own lives. In her column, Zuboff concludes that that industry must be regulated, the behemoths broken up. 

But “Into the Light” comes to a very different conclusion: that only societies built on Christian values and principles can thrive in perpetuity. It’s a Christian nationalist conclusion to a technological problem.

After the documentary was over, former CBS war correspondent Lara Logan — who was discredited and left the news industry after publicly saying, among other things, that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol Building was “manufactured” — moderated a panel discussion on child sex trafficking. The comments that got her booted from her journalism career fit well with Flynn’s messaging.

‘Get In the Fight’

The former soldier is praised for his embrace of some of the conspiracy theories that have gripped the United States since Donald Trump’s 2016 election to the presidency, and for advocating that Trump suspend the U.S. Constitution and declare martial law after losing the 2020 presidential election.

The screenings and the panel, along with information sessions on child sex trafficking held at On Fire on April 27, was part of the “Washington Summit” of Get In the Fight, produced by America’s Future, whose governing board Flynn chairs. 

After he and his sister Mary Flynn O’Neill, who was also at the Friday event, took over America’s Future in 2021, the nonprofit immediately began bleeding financially.

Perhaps part of the remedy to those financial struggles are the $40 general admission and $200 VIP tickets America’s Future is selling to Get In the Fight. 

‘It’s a very well-oiled machine’

Former CBS war correspondent Lara Logan (standing) moderates a panel of conservative anti-sex trafficking activists and commentators, including former intelligence analyst Aaron Stevenson (right), who made insinuations about the Biden administration trafficking children. / Photo by Aaron Hedge (RANGE Media)

At the beginning of the panel discussion, Logan introduced Aaron Stevenson, a former intelligence analyst with the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2021, Stevenson leaked information to the disgraced conservative activist James O’Keefe, including the identities and photos of asylum seekers he said were sex trafficking children across the U.S. border with Mexico.

At Friday’s event, Stevenson went a step further.

Logan prompted Stevenson: “One of the things you pointed out, Aaron, is that [the alleged traffickers came from] three different regions of the world. It was three different transnational criminal organizations, but also it all began the month that Joe Biden took office.”

Stevenson was careful to note his answer was his own opinion: “This is me speaking, this is nobody else. But we know that the American government has brought in crack, they brought in drugs, they funneled that in the country. Is trafficking people below them? This makes me go like, ‘Yeah, there’s something still out there, which is, which we don’t understand yet. And that’s what we’re trying to do, obviously, is figure the whole thing out to destroy the system. But it’s definitely a very well-oiled machine.”

Logan did not push back or ask follow-up questions.

Child sex trafficking is a real and serious problem in the U.S., but it has been seized on since Donald Trump first ran for the presidency by conspiracy theorists who claim the federal government and Hollywood are rife with sex traffickers — including Hillary Clinton and celebrities — and inflate child sex trafficking numbers far beyond what is supported by data.

A circuit of anti-queer events

This event took place amid a series in the Pacific Northwest that stitches the Inland Northwest more intricately into the national landscape of far-right Christian and anti-queer organizing. 

They include an April 13 protest at the Washington Capitol Building of increasing acceptance of transgender children in public schools that Shea organized. That protest was, in turn, part of the nationwide demonstration “Call to the Capitols,” spearheaded by the Portland anti-queer pastor Jenny Donnelly, who hosted a so-called “Don’t Mess With Our Kids” event at On Fire last year. (“I’m going to show you one of the ways the devil takes our kids,” Donnelly had told the On Fire crowd in November, while standing in front of a projector text that read, “The Problem: 1 in 5 GenZ self-identify as LGBTQ+.”)

Several attendees of Friday’s events wore Don’t Mess With Our Kids t-shirts with the mantra “Pray, fast, stand” emblazoned on the back.

On April 25, On Fire also hosted another documentary,“Flynn,” which the former general has been touring the country’s churches to promote. Flynn headlined that event, too. 

Then Shea promoted an April 29 event held in Coeur d’Alene featuring Bill Jasper, a senior editor at the right-wing magazine The New American, which is published by the John Birch Society, for an informational session on local organizing. Appearing on Shea’s show on April 25, Jasper discussed gay and secular couples who want to forgo having kids or adopt children as taking opportunities away from straight Christian couples who want to adopt. 

“Many of these homosexuals and lesbians who are, quote unquote, married,” Jasper complained on the show, are “making it harder and harder for Christian groups to have adoption programs because they’re ruled out as being bigoted and hate-filled, but the homosexuals are being allowed now to have kids.”

Local ‘Let Us Worship’ event

Shea has also announced that the anti-queer worship pastor Sean Feucht, whom RANGE has reported on extensively, will be back in Spokane for a worship event at On Fire on May 31. Last time Feucht was here was for a late-August stop on his traveling concert Let Us Worship, an event which happened to occur during the Gray Fire. Shea prayed over then-Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward just after denouncing queerness as a problem commensurate with the fires. 

After the concert, Shea and church-goers from On Fire pressured a local homeless man who’d admitted to stealing one of Feucht’s guitars into being baptized, which they filmed, later using the footage for a national fundraising campaign that claimed Feucht had saved the man’s soul. 

With more of these far-right Christian events coming to Spokane, get ready for a hell of a summer.

This story was republished from RANGE Media, a worker-owned newsroom in Spokane. To learn more about their civic engagement work and accountability reporting, click here.

RANGE Mediahttps://www.rangemedia.co/
RANGE is a media organization for people who love the Inland Northwest and want to make it better. We are building an anti-racist, equity-minded, class-focused newsroom striving to spotlight the perspectives and expertise of members of marginalized communities, from the ground up.

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