Ammon Bundy made a name for himself with his armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, a criminal assault on a federal facility that launched him onto the national stage as an extremist cowboy hater of publicly-owned lands in the West, lands he declared a manifestation of socialism.

He is now running for governor of Idaho, where he moved after beating the rap in federal court on the Malheur felonies. According to an investigation by a citizen journalist named Chris Zinda, Bundy’s criminality has not ceased, as he has allegedly violated IRS and campaign finance laws by siphoning campaign contributions to personal coffers.

Zinda, a 58-year-old Oregon homemaker who worked for 11 years at the National Park Service, has spent no small part of his free time exposing extremism in the Intermountain West, including the militant Sagebrush Rebellion movement led by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a 50-year-old network of Mormon “theoconstitutionalists” that includes Bundy as one of its chief representatives. Lately Zinda has focused on Bundy as a grifter who happens to be a devout fundamentalist Mormon Christo-fascist

Zinda’s report, titled “Investigating Ammon’s Money Trail,” was published in January following the first of the mandated campaign finance disclosures in the Idaho gubernatorial campaign. It focused on the evidence that Zinda believes is fodder for a wide-ranging federal investigation. Its main targets are Bundy’s People’s Rights Network and an associated Bundy entity, Dono Custos, and the tens of thousands of dollars that have been funneled via these entities, likely illegally. (Many months later, journalists covering the Bundy campaign, clued in by an anonymous voter complaint, are starting to play catch-up with this story.)

Like Trump, Bundy is perceived as a bold outsider, beholden to none, a charismatic strongman, and his derision of “Republicans in name only” is pushing the party in Idaho ever rightward. 

Despite the naysaying of Idaho pundits that resembles, troublingly, the denialism of national media in the run-up to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, Zinda believes that Bundy’s Keep Idaho IDAHO Plan will drive voters to the polls like cattle on the hoof, and that silly matters such as corrupt self-dealing won’t be an issue.  

Instead, Zinda fears, a silent majority of fellow extremists will reach critical mass in the right-wing “redoubt state.”  

Like Trump, Bundy is perceived as a bold outsider, beholden to none, a charismatic strongman, and his derision of “Republicans in name only” is pushing the party in Idaho ever rightward.  Like Trump, Bundy courts authoritarian militias and their supporters — Three Percenters, Proud Boys, the John Birch Society — who appear willing to use force to dictate who and what is American. More committed ideologically and personally to violent revolution than Trump, Bundy had the chutzpah to join his fellow would-be putschists in the illegal occupation of the Idaho statehouse in Boise, where he was hauled out in a wheelchair after refusing to move at the order of state police.  

“My premise is people are sleeping on Bundy, taking him as a joke to be mocked,” Zinda told me. “Idaho is at the forefront of the right wing, where people have been moving for decades to fulfill this idea of the so-called ‘redoubt’. The result: RINO is akin to Democrat and a part of the electorate is looking for an alternative no matter the crazy. Assisted by the extremist Mormons behind the National Center for Constitutional Studies, Bundy moved to Idaho to exploit this.”

In a September interview conducted by a fawning representative from the ultra-right John Birch Society, Bundy made clear that there’s no difference between “Constitutional principles” and “biblical principles.”   

“If we’re talking about the Declaration of Independence, we’re talking about biblical principles,” he said. “And, if we’re talking about anywhere from our judicial system to our checks and balances [then] we need to go to our founding documents and the Bible to look…because the majesty of God’s law is much greater than anything that we can make up on ourselves.”

In a bizarre series of advertisements aired in the final days of his campaign, Bundy laid out his plan to chase all “liberals” from the State of Idaho, arresting LGBTQ people — all of whom, he says, serve a “woke cult” — using state funds to drive them, literally, out of Idaho.

“My premise is people are sleeping on Bundy, taking him as a joke to be mocked,” Zinda told me. “Idaho is at the forefront of the right wing, where people have been moving for decades to fulfill this idea of the so-called ‘redoubt’.

On the campaign trail, Bundy touted the legal theory of the “constitutional sheriff” — a common idea in far-right circles — to justify his expulsionary program of “renewal.” The federal law enforcement agencies, he said, “do not have authority to come into Idaho to enforce federal law without consent of their local sheriff. The sheriff is the highest policing officer in the country, higher than the federal.” 

As part of his stump speech, Bundy promised to activate the National Guard to support county sheriffs in opposition to any federal law that he deemed unworthy of enforcement. This is an insurrectionary plan; it would effectively make Idaho a separatist state.

In his sometimes comical communications with Bundy, Zinda has taunted him with his intention to sabotage the big-hatted extremist’s every move, and ensure Bundy’s loss in this race and any others to follow. In response, the self-proclaimed heir of Mormon prophecy replied, “You are as one of Satan’s little minions, full of hate and spite with nothing more to spend your time on except trying to spawn contempt. This election will be won or lost as God our Father wills it according to the agency that He gave each of us…[S]ome day you too will bow your knee to our maker and acknowledge His righteousness.”

Bundy’s candidacy, like so many others across the country, reflects a rising extremist threat that may be as dangerous in defeat as in victory. 

“We have to stop these people from doing what they are doing,” Bundy told his followers in a recent YouTube video. “And, if we can’t do it politically, then we’ll have to do it physically.”

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