For all his exploits elsewhere, Ammon Bundy took pains not to soil his own nest.
In 2014, he joined his father and brother in an armed standoff with federal officers at Bunkerville, Nev.
Two years later, he led the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore.
After prosecutorial misconduct resulted in a mistrial in Nevada and overly aggressive charging led to an acquittal in Oregon, Bundy returned to his Emmett home. Other than an occasional interview or publicizing his legal right — because of his clear record — to pass a background check and purchase a semi-automatic rifle, he maintained a relatively low profile.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s subsequent response to it offered Bundy the opportunity to ignite the kind of conflict he so craves.
It began with acts of defiance. On Easter Sunday, Bundy violated the governor’s stay-at-home orders by assembling about 60 people, including Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman, into an Emmett warehouse. There was no social distancing and few people were wearing masks.
He also showed up at an Idaho Freedom Foundation-sponsored rally at the state Capitol, comparing the governor’s order to the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.
Next came intimidation tactics. On April 21, he led his band of protesters first to Little’s residence in Emmett and then to the home of a Meridian cop who had been goaded into arresting protester Sara Brady at a closed community playground. Fortunately for all involved, police got word of Bundy’s plans and placed officers at the driveway.
Before retreating, Bundy yelled; “You will not go into parks and arrest mothers. And you will not go anywhere and arrest us for exercising what our rights are.”
Brady later apologized.
Now Bundy has proceeded into physical assault and battery. Here he was at the Southwest District Health Department offices in Caldwell Thursday. The board was scheduled to discuss responses — presumably including a face mask mandate — to a coronavirus outbreak in Canyon County that was every bit as severe as it was in neighboring Ada County, where face mask mandates and restrictions on large gatherings have been imposed.
Following health protocols, the board opted to restrict public access to Zoom and by phone.
Bundy was having none of it — and twice accosted health department employees who tried to block his way from the main lobby and then into a meeting room.
“We’ll either go in there and fill the meeting as much as we can. I understand if it’s too much. Or you will cancel the meeting. Or you will call the officers to arrest us,” he said.
Health Department officials told the Idaho Press that some of the protesters were armed and disruptive.
Anyone else surely would have been charged with assault — punishable by three months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine — or battery — which carries a six month jail term and/or a $1,000 fine.
Not only did Bundy walk away, but he’s been able to cow the health board into canceling its meetings and deferring any action that might abate an epidemic that is endangering lives. Canyon County reported 176 new cases on Tuesday alone.
About the only explanation for such reticience is the expectation that placing a pair of handcuffs on this agitator and forcing him to appear before a judge would only enhance the martyrdom he already enjoys among his fervent followers.
Start with a simple premise: No one, certainly not Ammon Bundy, is above the law.
What’s the alternative to stopping this bully with a pulpit?
Encouraging more belligerence and more intimidation toward public health officials who have enough on their plates?
Emboldening those around Bundy who have already demonstrated a propensity toward armed violence? One follower, Robert Finicum, was shot dead by law enforcement officers outside Malheur in 2016. Another acolyte, Sean Anderson of Riggins, was wounded in a shootout with police last weekend in Ferdinand.
If Bundy is not held to account, it’s only going to get worse. Just look at his record. — M.T.