Back in May, at a rally calling for Eastern Washington to become its own state dubbed Liberty, state Rep. Matt Shea's legislative assistant, Rene' Holaday, claimed that the number of Republican legislators supporting Shea's proposal was growing.
It was a result, she argued, of the flood of liberal legislation passed by state Democrats, who'd been given the strongest legislative majority in years.
"It was described as a bloodbath," Holaday said, according to a video recording of the event. "What they got was absolutely atrocious."
"We had an ever-larger number of representatives on board with us," Holaday said. "They actually even said — and it wasn't even representative Shea that said this, they said this on their own — 'It’s either going to be bloodshed or Liberty State.' Take that to heart.”
The plain language interpretation was explosive: For years, Shea and his allies have been disputing claims that right-winger groups were violent, instead arguing that the true threat was posed by Muslim extremists and left-wing groups like anti-fascists, or antifa. By contrast, Holaday's quote appeared to suggest that multiple other Republican state legislators also believed that people would resort to physical violence if the state wasn't divided in two.
The Spokesman-Review reported her "bloodshed or Liberty state" quote, and the story was picked up nationally by left-wing outlets like Raw Story.
Just last week, Shea's supporters were again put on the defensive when the Guardian reported that Shea had helped promote a group called Team Rugged, an organization training young men for armed biblical warfare. The House is currently investigating whether Shea had promoted or assisted any groups planning political violence.
Separately, the House has already taken action against Holaday, who says she was fired for participating in the May event.
Shortly after the event, Washington state House Republican Caucus Chief of Staff Lisa Fenton and caucus attorney Cathy Hoover drove all the way from Olympia to Eastern Washington and explained she was being terminated.
"The Legislature said that since I was emceeing the [Liberty] event... it was an ethics violations," Holaday says.
It's an odd quirk of the state House. Legislative aides aren't technically hired or fired by the representatives they assist. Instead, they're employees of the state government, technically under the supervision of the clerk's office. That means the chief clerk's office can fire any state legislator's legislative assistant.
"We don’t comment on personnel issues," says Chief Clerk Bernard Dean. "I can tell you she was terminated, but I can’t tell you the nature of the termination or why she was terminated.”
He does, however, say that there are rules barring most legislative employees from giving speeches at political rallies. Ironically, the Legislature places significant prohibitions against a politician's legislative assistant getting, well, political.
"House rules prohibit, absolutely, lobbying by House employees," the state House's personnel policy manual explains, singling out "taking a leadership role in an organization which attempts to influence the legislature" and "actively participating in capitol campus rallies" as particularly problematic.
"If the rally occurs during an employee’s personal time, the employee can be an observer, but should avoid becoming a participant," Dean says. "We advise staff not to even attend the rallies, just to watch. The perception might lead others to think they’re participating."
Dean says that sometimes the chief clerk's office may see news accounts about an employee's participation in a rally. But other times it's reported to them directly.
"Due to the partisan nature of this place, in some cases, we’ve had one caucus report to us that they saw a member of another caucus attending some rally," Dean says. He also says it's not always an automatic fireable offense — the clerk's office handles these on a case-by-case basis.
It's not clear whether the controversial content of Holaday's speech played a part in the decision to fire her. But the video of the speech makes her lobbying role undeniable. She's introduced as "Lady Liberty" and the coordinator for the Liberty state organization. Holaday describes in detail the efforts to rally supporters to the cause of the creation of a new state. She even invites the county-level leadership of the 51st state movement on stage.
But Holaday argues that this sort of interaction isn't unusual for a staffer.
"I think that legislative assistants do this sort of thing all the time," Holaday says.
Still, Holaday was not your typical legislative assistant.
Holaday isn't from Shea's Spokane Valley's district. Instead, she's a horse breeder from Stevens County, a rural area of northeast Washington with about half the population of the Valley.
Stevens County has become an epicenter of some of the most passionate and loyal support for Shea, as his anti-government messages have resonated with ranchers, gun owners and religious groups who predict the rise of government tyranny.
In her speech at the Liberty State Gala, Holaday credited Shea with personally helping her to save her 40-acre horse farm.
Holaday wasn't exactly new to Stevens County politics. She had run unsuccessfully for Stevens County commissioner in 2010 and 2018. In 2010, she pushed as a citizen a bill that claimed that since human-caused climate change has never been "unanimously proven and supported by the global scientific population, all environmental preservation precedence over people’s private property rights and water rights must be considered null and void."
She self-published a book called the Perils of Sustainable Development, claiming the United Nation's "Agenda 21" "plans to completely abolish things like private property rights, individual rights, air conditioning, driving of vehicles, rural living, meat consumption, livestock ownership, farming, logging, and much, much more."
"A lot of these kids, when I talk to them and I'll show them different websites and things, they're just blown away that they've been lied to most of their lives."
For decades, members of the right, including Shea, have railed against Agenda 21, a non-binding UN resolution from 1992 that pushed for a variety of environmental policies, including ways to encourage population density. In some conservatives circles, Agenda 21 isn't just a set of voluntary sustainability guidelines — it's a socialist plot intended to use nefarious means to drive rural residents into cities.
"Is this any coincidence that the location of all the [drought] and fires in the USA matches the map outline for the 50 [percent] of USA that Agenda 21/30 wants to have re-wilded and the human population removed from?" Holaday, or someone using her name, writes in the comments of a 2017 Redoubt News story. (Other Stevens County figures have pushed similar conspiracy theories about wolves.)
Agenda 21 came up in 2016 on Shea's radio show when he brought on his "good friend Rene' Holaday," as a "subject matter expert" to talk about land use, water rights and wolves. Together they discussed how important it is for young people to research Agenda 21.
"A lot of these kids, when I talk to them and I'll show them different websites and things, they're just blown away that they've been lied to most of their lives," Shea told Holaday. "And now they want to get involved."
In an interview just last year, this one with the Radio Free Redoubt host Jack Robertson, Holaday suggested that her influence may have gone all the way to the top. She said that President Donald Trump was personally given a copy of her anti-United Nations book by former state Sen. Brian Dansel while Dansel was serving as the deputy director of Trump’s Washington state campaign team.
"Trump said, 'What do you think of Agenda 21?' And Brian said, 'Well, I have a book that pretty much describes what I feel about it,'" Holaday said. "He said, 'Let me just give you a copy of this book,' so he gave it to him."
Dansel, however, denies that happened.
"Oh, God. Rene' Holaday," Dansel says, chuckling. "No, that’s not true."
He says Holaday did give Dansel her book, but he says he definitely never gave it to the president and doesn't recall ever having a conversation with Trump about Agenda 21.
The recent wave of national attention regarding Shea, however, hasn't just been because of his right-wing ideology. It's been the specter of violence. In April, the Guardian broke the story that Shea allies like Robertson had fantasized about violently assaulting liberal activists — and Shea had then offered to conduct background checks for them.
And so Holaday's characterization of other state legislators believing the choice was between "bloodshed or Liberty" was even more striking in context.
Holaday says she hadn't witnessed other state legislators express that dichotomy firsthand — only that she'd heard Shea suggest that others in the Republican caucus had that belief.
"They mean that, as soon as the people found out what had been passed by the Democrats, that they were going to respond in a very adverse way," Holaday says. "Any time that you have people passing things that are illegal or unconstitutional or taking away rights or Second Amendment rights, it gets a typical response... People would not be happy to the point of — What would they be forced to do?"
The Inlander pressed Holaday to define what, exactly, she understood "bloodshed" to mean. Was there an interpretation that didn't imply violence?
Holaday declined to speculate on what "bloodshed" meant. She says it wasn't her characterization — it was Shea quoting unnamed other caucus members.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Holaday says. "I can’t put words into anybody’s mouth."
But she did double-down on the idea that Liberty state was a peaceful alternative.
"What we’re doing with Liberty state, we’re offering a peaceful option of dividing the state rather than having to defend your rights in whatever way you decide you might need to,"
Holaday says. "How much illegal stuff can be done before people can start feeling like they're cornered? That’s why this Liberty state [proposal] is so awesome. It gives people the peaceful option and a legal way out where they’re not forced into that corner."
Last year, a former Shea ally leaked a Shea-authored outline of a document called "Biblical Basis for War." It includes a section discussing that enemies must "surrender on terms of justice and righteousness," a standard that the outline defines as including stopping abortions, and banning both gay marriage and communism.
"If they do not yield — kill all males," Shea writes.
"He’s not advocating for the Deuteronomy version of ‘kill all males,’” Collier says.
But asked why Shea's document claims that the warring party must ban "abortions" and "Communism" — two topics that the Bible doesn't explicitly address — Collier said he wasn't sure.
And other observers aren't willing to parse Shea's involvement so generously. Last week's Guardian report showed that Shea had helped promote Team Rugged, an organization purporting to use the ideology of Neo-confederate pastor John Weaver to train young men in "biblical warfare" to fend off Muslim terrorists.
"Matt Shea is involved in the radicalization of young people," Knezovich says. He's particularly concerned with Weaver's involvement.