Idaho resident Ammon Bundy, known for his leadership roles in armed standoffs challenging federal land management, said last week he now plans to draw on those experiences to counter state-level efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He recommended a three-pronged approach that he described as "legal, political and physical."
Bundy organized a public meeting in Emmett, Idaho, on Thursday night to rail against Republican Gov. Brad Little’s recent emergency declaration ordering the state’s residents to self-isolate at home, asserting the measure amounts to a violation of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
"I was hoping that Gov. Little would hold out, that he would see what was happening, that he would realize what is best for Idaho is not to freak out and act like, you know, [a] fearmonger," Bundy said in video of the event recorded by attendees.
He later added: "The right to travel is not theirs to take. The right to assemble is not theirs to take. The right to worship how and where and when we want is not theirs to take. That’s the issue here."
Bundy’s remarks at the meeting followed a series of similar social media posts over the previous week in which he downplayed the seriousness of the novel coronavirus that has rapidly spread across the globe.
"This virus thing, real … yes, but not nearly as bad as it is being portrayed. It is being exploited in every way by people in and out of government who want to take what does not belong to them," Bundy wrote on Facebook last week. "I pray that enough of [us] will wake up, stand up and put liberty above safety in every case!"
During the Thursday night meeting, Bundy similarly characterized the current outbreak as "a relatively low-risk situation."
"If nine out of 10 people were dying, it still does not justify the taking of rights," he added.
More than 140,000 cases have been confirmed across the nation since late January and more than 2,400 individuals have died after contracting the respiratory illness, according to data compiled by Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In his remarks to at least a dozen attendees in Emmett, Bundy outlined his plan of action based on his prior experiences challenging the federal government.
"When I say political, it’s not calling up my legislatures and saying, ‘I don’t like this. I think you should vote this way,’" Bundy said. "It is all of us going to the governor’s house, literally, and saying, ‘You will not do this. We are not OK with this.’"
Bundy also suggested attendees should protest at Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen’s home, drawing a round of applause from the crowd.
"I promise you I’ve stood in front of as many cameras as there’s people here because of that type of action. It works and is effective in educating people," Bundy said.
He later added: "If you decided to keep your business open, then I will be there. And I will bring as many people as I can, and we will form a legal defense for you, we will form an active political defense for you, and we will also, if necessary, provide a physical defense for you so that you can continue in your rights. And that’s what I believe needs to happen."
Bundy said he planned to hold another public meeting this Thursday to discuss future protests.
Bundy and his brother Ryan Bundy were arrested in 2016 after leading the occupation of a vacant building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
Both Bundys faced criminal charges, but a federal jury in Oregon ultimately acquitted all seven leaders of the incident (Greenwire, Oct. 28, 2016).
The Bundy brothers, along with father Cliven Bundy, also faced trial over charges stemming from a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents near Bunkerville, Nev. That incident was sparked when the Bureau of Land Management attempted to seize the elder Bundy’s cattle to settle years of unpaid grazing fees and trespass fines.
But a federal judge declared a mistrial in that case in late 2017, after finding the government withheld key information from defendants.
The Justice Department is seeking a new trial via the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but those proceedings have been delayed due to the current pandemic (Greenwire, March 11).