It was entirely predictable that Ammon Bundy, the native alt right radical of the American West, would, after terrorizing and threatening health care workers and judges in Idaho, and after being assessed millions for his behavior, would cloak himself in martyr clothes and play the victim.
An Idaho jury recently awarded the state’s largest hospital – St. Luke’s – and several harassed members of its leadership $52.5 million in actual and punitive damages owing to the domestic terrorism tactics of Bundy and his followers in 2022.
As NPR’s Kirk Siegler summarized the case: “The drama goes back to March of 2022 when Bundy led a series of tense protests against the hospitalization of one of his associate’s infant grandkids who state social workers said was malnourished. According to court documents, protesters, some armed, tried to force their way into the hospital’s locked exits. Some held ‘wanted’ signs naming individual doctors and nurses and even blocked an ambulance entrance as car horns blared.”
The antics of Bundy and his followers caused St. Luke’s to effectively shut down for a period of time and the hospital spent a bucket load on increased security. As Kyle Pfannenstiel reported in the Idaho Capital Sun, St. Luke’s hospitals in Boise and Meridian, Idaho “saw 667 more appointments canceled than usual during the week around the protests” and the health system spent “$4.6 million hiring about 74 full time security staff
Bundy, of course, thumbed his nose at the legal process that finally held him to account by refusing to offer a defense or even show up in court. And after posting a photo online of the female judge who presided over his case Bundy, not man enough to show up in the judge’s court, threatened the jurist.
“Please do not sanction a war that may end in innocent blood and require others to bring justice upon those who are responsible for shedding it,” Bundy wrote.
Bundy is a symptom and not a cause of a much bigger problem, namely the studied willingness of many rightwing politicians to enable our Bundys at the same time they ignore them.
Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, as he cruised to re-election in 2022, winning an election where Bundy won 101,000 votes running as a Republican turned independent, might have made Bundy a central issue for Idaho voters. But Little never mentioned the man with the big hat and even bigger threats. The same can said for every member of Idaho’s congressional delegation and most members of the overwhelmingly right leaning state legislature.
Even worse, some Idaho lawmakers have supported Bundy and his rhetoric, part of a long tendency of too many on the far right to delegitimize government, intimidate the courts and trash the Constitution while proclaiming to defend it.
Truth be told the elected leaders of what was once the party of Lincoln are caught in the right’s doom loop of anti-government rhetoric that stretches at least back to Ronald Reagan’s 1981 declaration that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Rightwing voters, fed a decades-long diet of nonsense and fables about a “deep state” with IRS agents ready to ambush you in the driveway or armies of pedophiles grooming the nation’s children, have washed down this warped political ideology with the refreshing Kool-Aid of blind and ignorant hatred.
About the only things the far right stands for today are the conspiracy theories Bundy invoked in his attack on the Idaho hospital and a profound hatred for our government that, thanks to an Idaho jury, can still hold these radicals accountable.
For Americans who tend to forget – or ignore – their history, it bares mentioning that the radicalization of the American right, the radicalization epitomized by characters like Bundy, has been a long time in coming.
As historian Sean Wilentz wrote recently in the New York Review of Books rightwing talk radio poured accelerant on the politics of hatred after the disastrous siege of the armed Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas in 1993. “Go for a head shot,” Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy shouted to a radio audience, “instructing listeners on how to kill federal firearms officials.”
“The second violent American revolution,” Rush Limbaugh declared around the same time, “is just about – I got my fingers about a quarter of an inch apart – is just about that far away.”
Jeffrey Toobin documents in a new book – Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism – the long arc of this radicalization.
McVeigh, the Oklahoma City mass murderer, was a Limbaugh fan who used a copy of The Turner Diaries, a dystopian 1978 novel that features an attack on the U.S. Capitol and became a how-to guide for a generation of domestic terrorists, to implement his fantasy of a white supremacist revolution.
The bomb McVeigh ignited inside a rented Ryder truck destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people, including 19 children. McVeigh, it should be noted, obtained his copy of The Turner Diaries thanks to an ad in The American Hunter, the magazine of the National Rifle Association.
McVeigh went to his just rewards never expressing remorse for the slaughter he manufactured, sorry apparently only that his actions didn’t spark the revolution he sought. It takes little imagination to connect the dots to January 6, the Proud Boys and the conspiracies theories of Q-Anon.
And now we must wonder what else an Ammon Bundy and his crowd are capable of. Start the wonder by heeding his words about “a war that may end in innocent blood.”
Bundy, even more importantly, is the current case study of the tendency on the right to condone what they refuse to condemn. Bundy’s been huffing and threatening for years, somehow evading the law by the ignoring the law, leading an armed takeover of an Oregon bird refuge and causing a near riot in the Idaho capitol building. Threatening a hospital and its staff is for him all in a day’s work.
Taking on Bundy would, of course, require courage, a quality hard to find among a political class who can’t find the guts to reject as their likely presidential candidate a guy who incited an insurrection after failing to steal an election. An effective response to Bundy would also require a willingness to call out the shocking number of people who support him, clearly too much to ask of politicians who think no farther than their next primary.
Thank goodness a hospital CEO – St. Luke’s Chris Roth in the Bundy case – has more backbone than any Republican officeholder. “Standing up to the threats, bullying, intimidation, disruption, and self-serving actions of the defendants was necessary,” Roth said of the lawsuit against Bundy. “Inaction would have signaled that their menacing behavior was acceptable. Clearly, it is not, and the jury’s decision validates that fact.”
Yet as heartening as Roth’s courage is a sad fact remains. The abject failure by elected Republicans in Idaho and across the West to challenge and unambiguously condemn these homegrown terrorists puts them – and all of us – on a rendezvous with catastrophe.
A few other items worthy of your time …
Marichal, Spahn and the greatest game ever pitched
“On July 2, 1963, two baseball legends engaged in one of the greatest pitchers’ duels in baseball history.
“This was a 16-inning thriller in San Francisco, scoreless until the very end, and both Marichal and Spahn went the distance. It is still the last Major League Baseball game where both starters pitched into the 16th inning.”
It has become unusual for a Major League pitcher to last eight innings. Read about this incredible game where both hurlers went 16 innings.
Leon Gautier, last surviving French D-day commando, dies at 100
“The commandos came ashore carrying four days’ worth of rations and ammunition, 30kg (nearly 70lbs) in all. They sprinted up the beach with their heavy sacks and spent 78 days straight on the frontlines, in ever-dwindling numbers. Of the 177 who waded ashore on the morning of 6 June, just two dozen escaped death or injury, Gautier among them.”
Incredible. This from The Guardian.
Could a Special Plea Deal Keep Trump Out of the White House?
Jill Lawrence suggests that the once and would be future president just might, if facing a real jail date, take a plea deal in return for never seeking office again. Kind of like Spiro Agnew. Remember him?
“For Trump, who fancies himself a master dealmaker, a particular deal comes to mind: allowing him to avoid prison if he agrees to drop out of the presidential race (or resign the presidency, if it came to that) and never run for public office again. Ever.”
Finally … my new book is out.
I’ve been fortunate to line up several events – in Boise September 6 (register here) and in Manzanita on August 30 (register here). I’ll also be at the Montana Book Festival in September (details to come) and have other events across Montana in September.
Check with your local independent bookstore or order from the University of Oklahoma Press.