Idaho’s relationship with Ammon Bundy is one of appeaser and the appeased — with predictable results.
Where was the outcry about the Emmett man’s exploits in Bunkerville, Nev.? Idaho has a lot of ranchers who pay an allotment to the federal landlord. But you didn’t hear much from them when in 2014 Bundy and his family took up arms against federal officials who simply wanted them to compensate the government for grazing their cattle on the public’s land?
There was even less heartburn two years later when Bundy organized the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns, Ore. In fact, state Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, and Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, took time to travel to Oregon and lend him support.
Eventually Bundy returned home after federal charges against him ended in a mistrial and an acquittal.
He nibbled around the edges until the COVID-19 pandemic — and the government’s response to it — gave him the cause he craved.
First there was the maskless Easter Sunday service he hosted, in violation of a stay-at-home order.
Left alone, he escalated his tactics.
The Meridian cop who was goaded into arresting a woman at a closed city park found Bundy and a mob outside his home.
The Southwest District Health Department at Caldwell dropped its discussion of responding to the COVID-19 surge last July because Bundy and his crew literally forced themselves into its offices.
Next came the summer’s special legislative session, where Bundy and his supporters — some of them armed — barged into the House gallery, breaking a door window in the process. But it wasn’t until Bundy refused to leave a committee room that he was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. It took far less on the part of human rights protesters, who were engaged in peaceful civil disobedience in 2014-15 to be led away in handcuffs and hauled in front of a judge.
In October, he took his anti-face mask show to the Caldwell-Emmett high school football game, forcing school officials to cancel it at halftime.
So is it any surprise what has followed?
While it was not known if Bundy was in attendance, his acolytes in the People’s Rights movement stirred up a lot of trouble at the Dec. 8 Central Health District meeting. A few of them even harassed the residences of health board members, including one whose two young sons were inside alone. That forced the board to cancel its meeting before considering stronger restrictions in the wake of a health care system that’s become overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
A smaller group of protesters appeared at the health district meeting on Tuesday, where the board split 3-3 on a more restrictive order.
Far from discouraging them, the misdemeanor charges brought against Bundy and a handful of his followers have only provoked an even more disturbing response.
As Ryan Suppe and Tommy Simmons reported in the Idaho Press last week, the members of Bundy’s People’s Rights group who gathered in Emmett last week were girding themselves for another fight:
- They engaged in apocalyptic rhetoric — such as getting ready “before the world comes to an end.”
- They referred to training people in the use of weapons and ham radios.
- They characterized what comes next as a defense against a “force that is (about) to come upon us. ... It is never righteous to use it in offense.”
Curiously, people tend to defend themselves or their homes against intruders; how is bringing the fight to someone’s home not considered to be taking the offensive?
Most ominously of all, they talked about organizing in cells of between two and 10 members. Such small groups are the “most effective” type of “warfare,” Bundy said.
Idaho has seen something like this before, whether it was the Aryan Nations or even members of the violent group, the Order. But if a state’s leadership can’t bring itself to restrain a deadly virus, it’s certainly no match for Bundy’s brand of chaos.
Perhaps a new Biden administration Justice Department might take note, especially if Bundy is in fact spreading his message outside the Gem State.
For now, the amount of grief Bundy has brought to Idaho in 2020 is only a prelude to what he has in store for us in 2021. — M.T.