The COVID-19 pandemic was a boon to the public career of anti-government provocateur Ammon Bundy.
The scion of a right-wing clan that orchestrated serial armed confrontations with federal law enforcement officials over grazing rights and usage fees, Bundy burnished his outlaw reputation (he was earlier acquitted twice of federal charges in connection with his and his family’s defiance of federal laws) by getting himself arrested five times in connection with protests against Idaho’s coronavirus regulations. Now, he’s running for Governor of Idaho in a 2022 Republican primary in which the author of said regulations, the conservative incumbent Brad Little, may or may not be a candidate.
The gubernatorial contest is a natural step for Bundy, as Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones explained after his candidacy announcement:
Drawing on the cult following he developed after defeating the federal government in Oregon and Nevada, Bundy has linked arms with anti-vaccine activists and protested pandemic-related lockdowns and mask mandates.
In April 2020, he organized protests at Little’s house after a police officer arrested a woman in Meridian, near Bundy’s home, who refused to leave a playground that had been closed as a COVID prevention measure. He also organized church services in defiance of Little’s stay-at-home orders and has encouraged his supporters to back businesses that refused to shut down during the lockdown or to require masks. Bundy believes that wearing a mask is an affront to God and says that it’s against his conscience to wear one.
Bundy is treating Little as little more than a puppet of the “deep state” forces that also control Joe Biden, as he made clear in an announcement speech that pledged abolition of income and property taxes along with state reconquest of federal lands and an end to all infringements on “health freedom” (i.e., public health mandates).
This extremist’s apparently serious candidacy is both a problem and an opportunity for another announced Republican gubernatorial aspirant, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin. Like Bundy, she has been an inveterate opponent of Little’s not-exactly-aggressive COVID-19 measures, and has been at least militia-adjacent. Indeed, they have a prominent mutual friend, as the Guardian pointed out:
Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate, Janice McGeachin, attended a gathering where she was endorsed in a glowing introductory speech by a rightwing militia leader, as revealed in a video obtained by the Guardian.
The video shows Eric Parker, who was charged over his role in the standoff in 2014 at Bundy Ranch in Nevada where he was pictured pointing an assault rifle at federal agents, reminding McGeachin that she told him at an earlier meeting that “if I get in, you’re going to have a friend in the governor’s office”.
Unlike Bundy, though, McGeachin is very Trumpy (government-hater to the max, Bundy has had issues with Trump’s policies and is sympathetic to those who want to “defund the police”) and is within the bounds of what passes for conventional GOP politics these days (the chairman of the Idaho GOP has denounced Bundy). She also cast her opposition to Little’s pandemic policies as a matter of pride, just not the freedom to infect and be infected, as Idaho journalist Chuck Malloy reported:
The governor’s declaration of some workers as “essential” during the early stages of the pandemic…as McGeachin put it, placed a large number of hard-working Idahoans as “non-essential.” McGeachin described Little’s designation as a “slap in the face” to many Idahoans and talked about people having “tears in their eyes.”
Idaho is a state where even the most extreme Republican nominee will be a general election favorite. Only one Democrat (one-term congressman Walt Minnick) has won statewide or congressional office in this century.
At this point it’s unclear whether Bundy’s candidacy hurts McGeachin by splitting the far-right vote, or helps her by making her look more respectable by comparison. There’s also the matter of Bundy’s talent for news-making. According to David Neiwert, there’s a potential new violent confrontation brewing in next-door Oregon involving Bundy’s recently organized People’s Rights Network, involving challenges to federal drought policies:
Over the past few weeks, a cluster of Patriot-movement “constitutionalists” angered by federal water use decisions that will deprive farmers in the basin of their annual allotments from Upper Klamath Lake—all the result of severe drought conditions that have threatened to destroy both fish populations in the lakes and rivers and the abundant wildlife that depend on their presence for food—have been gathering their forces at the mouth of the lake, near the floodgates that manage water flow into the Klamath River from which they irrigate, and threatening to open them.
[Bundy told] a New York Times reporter that he was preparing to bring his allies—including the 5,377 members of People’s Network in Oregon—to open the gates. He added that the use of force, even against law enforcement, is sometimes necessary to protect people’s rights.
Nothing like an armed confrontation with the feds to goose a Republican candidacy in that part of the world. But if it happens, it may be telling which side of the barricades Janice McGeachin places herself.