By Sandy Robson
September 8, 2019
A July 30, 2019 post made by Washington state Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) on his Facebook page read:
“Rep. Matt Shea is a good man, a good legislator, and a great American.
“The following is a response to the attacks being leveled on Rep. Shea by Democrats in Olympia.”
Sen. Ericksen’s Facebook post linked to a July 30th post made by WA state Representative Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) on “We Speak,” a new social media platform on which Shea has a profile. More details about We Speak are provided later in this article.
The July 30th response Rep. Shea posted on We Speak read:
“MY RESPONSE, PLEASE SHARE FAR & WIDE:
The House hiring of a private investigator is nothing more than a Mueller-style witch-hunt. They are looking into whether I ‘engaged in, plan, or promoted political violence’ or am associated with groups that do. This should be a very short investigation. I am not a member of, nor am I associated with, Antifa, Socialist Rifle Association (SRA), Redneck Revolt, (RNR), John Brown Gun Club (JBGC), the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas. I will not back down. I will not give up. I will continue fighting for you and to Make Washington Great Again.”
Shea’s July 30th We Speak post was a response to the news that broke one day earlier which reported that the Washington state House hired an outside firm to investigate whether he had “engaged in, planned or promoted political violence and to determine the extent of his involvement with groups or people involved with such activities.”
While Shea’s July 30th We Speak post had asked followers to share his post “far & wide,” that same information, or even anything related to the news about the House investigation of him, is not publicly posted on his Facebook page.
The investigation of Rep. Shea is still ongoing. A preliminary report is expected to be produced by September 30, 2019 with a final report to the House by Dec. 1st.
Shea’s manifesto leaked online
Shea garnered major public attention after news broke back in October of 2018 about a four-page manifesto he wrote and distributed, condemning abortion and same-sex marriage, and outlining a “Biblical Basis for War.”
The Spokesman-Review reported in an October 31, 2018 article that Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the document Shea wrote, “is a ‘how to’ manual consistent with the ideology and operating philosophy of the Christian Identity/Aryan Nations movement and the Redoubt movement of the 1990s.”
Six months later, Rep. Shea once again found himself in the spotlight when The Guardian published an April 20, 2019 article that reported about his involvement in group text/chat messages between right-wing activists back in 2017.
According to the Guardian article, “The men [interacting in the group texts] proposed to confront leftists – whom they repeatedly refer to as ‘communists’ and ‘Antifa’ – with a suite of tactics, including violence.” The texts advocated violence, surveillance, and intimidation against perceived political enemies.
While Rep. Shea didn’t personally advocate or suggest violence in those texts, at the same time he did not speak up against suggested violence, nor did he condemn it. Also, the text message discussions indicated that Shea was willing to participate directly in the surveillance of activists.
Four months later, on August 14, 2019, The Guardian published an article about Shea which reported he had, “connected close allies with a group [‘Team Rugged’] offering training to young men in ‘biblical warfare’ that includes how to use knives, pistols and rifles, with lessons based in part on the teachings of a Georgia-based neo-Confederate pastor.”
According to the August 14th article, Rep. Shea, “later made videos in support of the group, and appeared alongside them at a gathering at a religious community in remote eastern Washington.” Additionally, Shea reportedly paid the founder of the group money from his campaign fund in 2018.
Pro-Trump Christian conservative founded We Speak
The new social media platform, We Speak, on which Rep. Shea had posted his July 30th post responding to the news he was being investigated, was created for Christian conservatives and founded by Ray Gilbride, a resident of Bellingham, Washington.
Gilbride has a profile on We Speak, as does his friend, Senator Doug Ericksen. Both men share a mutual adoration for Donald Trump. Ericksen has been actively promoting We Speak on his Facebook page since March of this year.
Gilbride’s name may be familiar to some after news media reported in September of 2016 about him having rigged-up an electrical system connected to his pro-Trump campaign signs displayed on his property, which would result in zapping anyone who might touch those.
Gilbride told news media he had taken that extreme measure as a means to stop individuals from continuing to steal his pro-Trump signs after that had occurred several times.
On March 30, 2019, Gilbride posted in the “Whatcom 4 Trump” Facebook group about the We Speak platform he was developing. The text of his post in that group read:
“Hey people we have a great social media platform we are growing for the 2020 election. Wespea.com. Come check ut [sic] out please.”
A February 25, 2019 post made by Gilbride on his Facebook page described the We Speak platform as, “a true Christian conservative family frendly [sic] alternative to this left contoled [sic] platform.”
The About section on Wespea.com states in part: “We will not censor content from conservative thinkers or block the flow of information. Here we will protect your right to speak the truth, even if it bothers people unable to handle the truth.”
Gilbride made an April 17, 2019 post on his Facebook page explaining why he was posting less often on Facebook, and what motivated him to create the new social media platform. In Gilbride’s post he claimed that Facebook shames and censors people and has become controlling about what he, and others who are like him, post.
Gilbride’s brother part of We Speak team
Tom Eichhorn, who Gilbride has referred to on Facebook as his brother, has a We Speak profile. Under Eichhorn’s About section on his We Speak profile it reads:
“Associate at WeSpeak. Retired Lieutenant 28 years in law enforcement. Director of Training New Hope Eugene, Safety Team. Owner of S.A.F.E. LLC. DSO [District Service Officer] under contract with the US Marshal’s [sic] Service. Brother to Ray, Leo, Eric, and Bob.”
According to the About section on the SAFE LLC Facebook page, S.A.F.E. stands for Safety Awareness For Everyone. A May 16, 2019 post on SAFE LLC’s Facebook page stated that, “In a time of increasing violence, S.A.F.E. is an awareness training for churches, businesses, schools and individuals,” and added that, “More and more there are no safe locations away from violence.” S.A.F.E. is run out of the New Hope Eugene church, located in Eugene, Oregon.
In a June 26, 2019 post displayed on Eichhorn’s SAFE LLC Facebook page, he promoted We Speak, announcing that S.A.F.E. LLC would be using the new We Speak platform which, at that time, was expected to roll out in July.
An August 30, 2019 post on the “SAFE LLC” Facebook page referred followers to its new page on the We Speak platform for any current information.
A July 5, 2018 special report that was broadcast on KEZI 9, an ABC affiliate serving the Eugene area, featured Safety Team members at New Hope Eugene who were “taking safety into their own hands by learning how to deal with a violent and armed intruder within the walls of a church.”
Eichhorn, who was quoted in the KEZI 9 report, said:
“In the U.S. today, 100% of the time when force is met with force, it stops the action.” He said each member attending the firearm class has gone through several levels of training, and they all have a concealed carry license.
“Level four is the highest level in those unfortunate circumstances where deadly force may have to be employed,”
Sen. Ericksen’s ironic dislike of censoring on social media
In an August 10, 2019 post made on his Facebook page, Gilbride posted a promotional video titled, “We Speak,” produced by American Zealot Productions. Senator Ericksen was one of the individuals featured in the video.
In the video, Ericksen said:
“So I want to bring more people to the table to have more voices heard and not fewer voices heard. And that’s what happens I think on modern day mega social media platforms, is they try to ban or censor the voices that don’t agree with them.”
It is ironic that Ericksen would make such a statement because of his actions back in February of 2017, when he began deleting a significant number of comments from his “Doug Ericksen @SenEricksen” public figure Facebook page, and blocking numerous commenters from the ability to post comments on that same public figure Facebook page which was active at that time.
The censoring by Ericksen was unwarranted in most cases and appeared to have been done because he did not like constituents’ criticism of him, and pointed questions posed to him, on his public figure Facebook page.
About a year and a half later, The Seattle Times reported in a July 22, 2018 article that Senator Ericksen “began to lift restrictions on his public Facebook page for people who say they have been blocked from it for more than a year.”
“The move came only after about 75 people — including some progressive activists who have opposed Ericksen over various issues — signed an open letter calling on the senator to unblock them,” according to the article.
The open letter organized by the Riveters Collective, a Bellingham-based, progressive civic action group, referenced a letter Senator Ericksen and other Washington state lawmakers had received from the ACLU in late 2017. The ACLU’s letter pointed out that deleting comments and blocking constituents on social media is a form of government censorship that violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The July 22, 2018 Seattle Times article also reported that at least two Washington state lawmakers had blocked reporters from following their Twitter accounts. One of those was Rep. Matt Shea.
We Speak team travels to Austin
On August 16, 2019, Gilbride made a post on his Facebook page which read: “We Speak takes Austin by storm.” Members of the We Speak team traveled to Austin, Texas for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual conference held August 14-16, 2019. We Speak had a booth at the event.
Gilbride’s August 16th Facebook post featured a short video which consisted of him speaking for 27 seconds. In the video, Gilbride said:
“We rolled out the We Speak platform this weekend and we had outstanding success…This thing is taking America by storm. We literally are going to change the way the election works. We’re gonna bring [inaudible] 12 million votes to the good side this time…”
One day earlier, on August 15th, Senator Ericksen made a post on his Facebook page that read: “At an ALEC conference in Austin, Texas.”
ALEC is comprised of state legislators, representatives of various large corporations, and conservative policy experts. It’s organization is conservative-leaning, and is well known for producing model legislation for state governments which aligns closely to the economic interests of the corporations which are members.
Senator Ericksen, Washington state Representative LuAnne Van Werven (R-Lynden), and Rep. Shea are listed as Washington’s state chairs for ALEC on its organization’s website.
According to an August 16, 2019 post displayed on the WeSpeak.com Facebook page about the new platform’s rollout during the ALEC conference, We Speak now has, “representatives in 35 states taking this home to their people. And so many organizations took us on this weekend with the gole [sic] of transfering [sic] there [sic] members here.”
Other notable conservatives with We Speak profiles
Besides Washington legislators Shea and Ericksen, some other notable conservatives currently or formerly involved in politics have profiles on the We Speak platform.
Those conservatives are: Whatcom Republicans’ Vice-Chair Karl Uppiano; former Chair of the Whatcom Republicans Charlie Crabtree; Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo who is currently running for re-election; Washington state Senator Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn) who announced in August he is running in the 2020 race for governor; former Washington state Representative Vincent Buys; Tim Eyman, a serial anti-tax initiative filer who is being sued by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson for allegedly using money donated to his initiative campaigns to enrich himself; Jay Rodne, a former Washington state representative who is Sen. Ericksen’s partner in PacRim Bridges LLC, a company they created to lobby/consult on behalf of the Cambodian government; and former Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller.
Manweller, a Republican, was in the news in 2018 when he was accused of, and investigated for, inappropriate behavior with female students while he was a professor at Central Washington University.
According to an August 22, 2018 Seattle Times article, the investigation found that then-Representative Manweller engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior with female students while he was a professor at CWU, including allegations of unwanted touching, suggestive conversations and “offering an educational benefit in exchange for sex.”
Manweller was fired from CWU in August of 2018, and in September of 2018 while he was running for re-election and was on the November 6, 2018 ballot, he had announced that he would resign if re-elected. After winning his election race, Rep. Manweller submitted a letter of resignation in December of 2018, and vacated his legislative seat at the start of the 2019 legislative session.
On March 10, 2019, Sen. Doug Ericksen made a post on his Facebook page, encouraging followers to join the We Speak platform. In his post he said: “Facebook is blocking conservative posts and promoting a liberal agenda.” Ericksen also promoted the fact that We Speak is a private social media platform.
The idea that the We Speak platform is private, seems to be a big selling point for the conservative and/or right-wing people who join it. The privacy enables them to interact and communicate with like-minded people — other Christian conservatives — so then they are more free to express what they really want to say without the general public on that same social media platform witnessing what has been said. This reduces the chance of problems in response to viewpoints which may be considered to be hate speech, bigoted, or racist.
It appears that the creation of We Speak is in large part to influence elections. Besides Gilbride having claimed in We Speak’s promotional video that the new platform is, “gonna change the way the election works,” and that they are, “gonna bring 12 million votes to the good side this time,” there was an August 11, 2019 post displayed on the WeSpeak.com Facebook page which bolstered that idea. The text of the post read:
“If you want to help the conservative ticket’s [sic] win then start an account on wespeak.com as well. we will be running 1500 campaigns here, its [sic] where you will get the uncensored truth and help our people win.”
While We Speak touts that it’s a family-safe, family-friendly, Christian conservative platform, the findings of CWU’s investigation of then-professor Matt Manweller’s inappropriate behavior with female students apparently were not enough to deter We Speak from allowing him onto its social media platform.
Also, the disturbing news reports about Rep. Matt Shea’s 4-page manifesto along with his documented interactions with individuals involved in private chat discussions about carrying out surveillance, psyops and violent attacks on perceived political enemies, were apparently not enough to deter We Speak from allowing him onto its so-called Christian conservative, family-safe, family-friendly social media platform.