Ammon Bundy, the militia leader who led a group of armed ranchers to take over Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, has a bold new plan to get himself and a bunch of people thrown in jail again: organise a mass defiance of pandemic stay-at-home orders.
Bundy led a group of far-right extremists to seize the refuge in early 2016 as part of an ill-fated plot to demand the U.S. government turn over most federal land to the states, resulting in a weeks-long standoff with police, dozens of arrests, and the death of group member LaVoy Finicum via SWAT team. (During the occupation, his group also received large amounts of hate mail and dildos.) Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy, and five others involved in the incident were all eventually acquitted on federal conspiracy and weapons charges by a sympathetic jury. The two Bundy brothers, their father Cliven Bundy, and others also found themselves facing charges related to a 2014 standoff with Bureau of Land Management officers over $US1 ($2) million in grazing fees. That situation ended in a mistrial in 2018.
Despite trying to put some distance between him and the militia movement in 2018, Bundy seems as determined to keep demanding authorities bow to his personal demands as ever. For weeks now, he’s been organising “liberty rebellion” meetings in Idaho in defiance of social distancing orders he claims are oppressive, and now he is planning to gather hundreds of people for an Easter protest in the state, according to CNN.
“Our goal is to get enough people together and secure our rights,” Bundy said, not mentioning the part where said meeting could spread the virus not just to participants but anyone they later come into contact with. The ranching figurehead insisted his crew “is not trying to provoke” but merely wants people “to be able to worship.”
Conspiracy theories and misinformation that have gained cache in some right-wing circles include that the government is exaggerating or outright lying about the severity of the virus, that it’s easily cured by an unproven drug promoted by Donald Trump, that the healthy should deliberately catch the virus to build herd immunity, and a contrarian argument that at one point was reportedly circulating among White House officials that the virus is growing weaker with every case. Bundy, who has likely absorbed some variation of these ideas and has a proven track record of reckless behaviour, wants to get infected so he can develop immunity to it.
“I actually want the virus,” Bundy told CNN. “I’m healthy, my family is healthy. I’d rather have it now so my body is immune to it.”
(Note that the science is still out on whether or not contracting a covid-19 infection and recovering is a path to immunity.)
The Idaho Statesman urged Governor Brad Little in an editorial on Thursday to make it clear that the stay-at-home order in the state is “not a suggestion. It’s not a hope or a preference or a request. It’s an order.” In a statement to CNN, Boise Police Department spokeswoman Haley Williams said that no actions have been taken but anyone violating the order could be charged. The statement reads, in part:
Boise Police has not issued any citations or charges due to the governor’s order. Officers have been focused on gaining voluntary compliance. As a last resort, if we are unable to do that, then we would refer the report to the prosecutor’s office for possible misdemeanour charges authorised by the governor’s order.
If Bundy does go through with the protest and achieve that outcome, he wouldn’t be able to brag about being the first. A megachurch pastor in Florida was arrested last month for continuing to host massive crowds at services, despite being repeatedly warned to stop by county authorities. But hey, at least coronavirus sceptics would get a new talking point about how this whole thing is a wild overreaction.