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Trial against anti-government extremist Ammon Bundy comes to a close

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Closing arguments could come as soon as tomorrow in a civil trial against anti-government extremist Ammon Bundy. Bundy has been a no-show in the case, which stems from armed protests he led outside a Boise, Idaho, hospital last year. As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, the hospital is suing Bundy for $7.5 million in damages.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Car horns are blaring outside Saint Luke's Hospital in Boise...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

SIEGLER: ...Where Ammon Bundy last year led armed protests against the hospitalization of one of his associates' infant grandkids, who social workers say was malnourished.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Idaho's largest health care provider says they will not be intimidated by bullies. Our top story tonight...

SIEGLER: Bundy has been defying a civil arrest warrant, and he remains a fixture online, streaming videos in his cowboy hat from his home in rural Emmett, Idaho. A former candidate for governor who got 90,000 votes here, he attacks Saint Luke's in a video this week that got 3,000 views.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMMON BUNDY: They are plotting and trying to get the courts to justify themselves in taking everything that we own. It's a cover up to cover up, basically, their wickedness.

SIEGLER: The Boise Hospital went into lockdown and diverted emergency services. According to court documents, protesters holding wanted signs naming doctors tried to force their way in, even blocking ambulance entrances.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUNDY: When you go into these courts and especially the Ada County courts - and I've had to learn this lesson the hard way - all you do is legitimize these people.

SIEGLER: It is just the latest legal drama for Bundy, who a jury actually acquitted in 2016 for leading an armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. These days, you don't hear him talking about federal control of public land, though. Instead, his People's Rights Network spent the pandemic protesting public health orders and, in this case, pushing far-right conspiracy theories about child trafficking.

GARY RAINEY: They are, to some degree, terrorists in the way that they're acting. And then he turns around and makes himself, like, the martyr or the victim, which is just ludicrous.

SIEGLER: Gary Rainey is a retired sheriff in Ada County, Idaho's most populous. He praises the hospital for going after Bundy's finances. And Rainey has also been advising local law enforcement to wait things out and not immediately go in and serve the warrant.

RAINEY: The other predicament is just keeping the community safe over there with all these - I'll use the technical term yahoos that are over living on Bundy's property, trying to protect him from who knows what.

SIEGLER: The trial, now in its ninth day, has offered a window into the dark world of far-right extremism, with intimidation and threats being directed at top officials even here in one of the most conservative states in the nation. A Saint Luke's nurse practitioner choked back tears on the witness stand, saying she's still being doxed online and called a pedophile. She's taking anxiety medications. The hospital's security director testified that he ordered a lockdown because he worried about a Pizzagate-style attack. He said Bundy's militia followers, who ascribed to QAnon theories, were close to taking control of the hospital in the middle of COVID. Bill Shawver is the former director of Idaho's Homeland Security office.

BILL SHAWVER: If we let this go and just turn our heads, then we are sending a terrible message - that if you don't comply and there are no penalties associated with that, you're going to encourage others to do the same.

SIEGLER: Bundy has lost the case because he didn't show up. Now the jury just has to determine how much he could pay. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Boise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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