Ammon Bundy, veteran of armed standoffs, builds militia network on COVID backlash

LA Times

The two dozen demonstrators pressed against the emergency-room doors, screaming to be let in.

“Show us the law!” they chanted.

“Let Grandma out!” one shouted.

They had descended on Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., the evening of Jan. 29 to protest the quarantine of Gayle Meyer, a 74-year-old patient who had refused to take a test for the coronavirus.

Police in riot gear guarded entrances as the activists — who authorities said were armed — insisted that Meyer was being held against her will, a claim the hospital denied.

Meyer’s 49-year-old daughter, Satin, an anti-mask activist licensed as her caregiver, had summoned the demonstrators, foot soldiers in a rapidly expanding network called People’s Rights. With the tap of a thumb on a smartphone, members can call a militia like they’d call an Uber and stage a protest within minutes.

Behind the organization is a familiar name: Ammon Bundy.

He is best known as the leader of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon — a deadly 41-day standoff between federal agents and militants who rejected the federal government’s authority over public lands across the West.

Now Bundy has seized on the backlash against coronavirus restrictions as an opportunity to start a new movement.

Since last March, when he launched People’s Rights — which he describes as “neighborhood watch on steroids” — the organization has attracted tens of thousands of members and sponsored more than 50 demonstrations across the country, dispatching gun-toting activists to the homes of politicians, health agency managers and even a police officer who had arrested a protester.

Experts who track extremists say that the network has significant overlap with white supremacist groups and other far-right organizations and that it has whipped up paranoia and rage, risking lives of hospital workers, health officers, politicians and others in the crosshairs.

“We have the potential for multiple Malheurs in multiple states, in that at any moment they could bring hardened far-right activists, often heavily armed, into any one event,” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.

In October, the Seattle-based organization and the Montana Human Rights Network published an investigation that found that Bundy had rapidly expanded People’s Rights by fusing his core of far-right paramilitary supporters with “a mass base of new activists radicalized in protest” of coronavirus restrictions.

Group leaders envision a form of “neighborhood nationalism,” in which the “righteous” stand against the “wicked,” the report said.

Investigators found that the network had 20,000 members in 16 states. In an interview with The Times late last month near his home in Idaho, Bundy claimed it had grown to almost 50,000 people in 35 states.

Last fall, Facebook removed an undisclosed number of People’s Rights pages from its platform after deeming the network a militarized social movement.

Bundy said his sole cause was defending the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution — even for LGBTQ people and Black Lives Matter activists whose views he may oppose.

He said he never supported President Trump and didn’t vote in the last two presidential elections. In 2016, he was in prison awaiting trial, and this past November he didn’t see a point. Contending that the COVID-19 death toll is massively exaggerated, he said that Trump should have worked harder to keep churches and businesses open.

Nonetheless, he encouraged his followers to go to Washington for the now-infamous Jan. 6 rally to distribute leaflets and display People’s Rights banners to recruit more members. He said he condemned the siege on the Capitol.

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2 thoughts on “Ammon Bundy, veteran of armed standoffs, builds militia network on COVID backlash

  1. “We have the potential for multiple Malheurs in multiple states”

    I bet you do, considering 15 of the 28 were FEDS or CI’s!

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