Is Ammon Bundy Setting the Stage for Another Stand-Off?The most accomplished grifter on the Intermountain far right has a new act.
Anti-government radical and Mormon zealot Ammon Bundy is shaping up to be the West’s most famous career criminal of the 21st century. Best known for his 2016 antics as the celebrity rebel occupier of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — a federal crime for which he beat the rap — Bundy now faces another turn in court on altogether less sexy charges.
On April 21, an Idaho judge issued an arrest warrant for Bundy after he refused to cease his harassment of a hospital, St. Luke’s Boise, in Boise, Idaho. The harassment, which began a year ago, concerned the treatment of a malnourished infant who had been taken from its parents and brought to St. Luke’s in March of 2022. The baby, as Bundy put it, had been “medically kidnapped” by doctors, and that spring he declared St. Luke’s a model of corruption, called for his followers to converge on the hospital and physically smash it to pieces and was himself arrested for trespassing at the site.
But there was no evidence for his claims that “Baby Cyrus,” as he dubbed the infant, was the victim of a conspiracy.
Lawyers for the hospital say that Bundy exploited the child’s plight to pad the coffers of his People’s Rights Network, or PRN, an organization that declares itself dedicated to “uniting neighbors to defend their families, faith, freedom and future.”
“We believe, and we have alleged in our proceedings, that this is a grift,” the lawyers said in a statement last week. “A tragic situation regarding this infant was used by Mr. Bundy and the others to raise money, feed the beast that is the People’s Rights Network financially, get the publicity, drive up membership in People’s Rights Network. We believe that cynical grift is what is behind all of this.”
Cynical grift, I argue, is the basis of the Mormon religion that Bundy has repeatedly declared provides him meaning and purpose. In my 2019 book, “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West,” I discussed the charismatic cheating and lying of the early Mormon “prophets” who exploited vulnerable people of faith to get money and support for personal aggrandizement and from this foundation built the Church of Latter-day Saints into the financial behemoth it is today.
Liars and cheats with God behind them somehow always get suckers to follow their beck and call. It’s likely Bundy’s followers will come together at his compound in Emmett, Idaho, to aid in resisting his arrest by Idaho authorities. Hints and fragments on social media suggest there’s a gathering storm. The Gem County Sheriff’s Office has warned that simply serving Bundy at his Emmett residence with court papers has provoked an extreme response from him, to the point that the sheriff has warned that “there is a potential for someone to getting hurt.”
In November, I wrote about Bundy’s insurrectionist campaign for Idaho governor for Truthdig. “Like Trump,” I wrote at the time,
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.
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