An Idaho jury ruled this week that antigovernment leader Ammon Bundy and his associates must pay St. Luke’s Health System a total of $52.5 million in damages for swarming its Boise hospital, forcing it to briefly shut down and harassing medical personnel.
The lawsuit stemmed from actions Bundy and his followers took in March 2022. The incident revolved around doctors ordering Diego Rodriguez’s infant grandchild into temporary protective care of the state. The child showed signs of malnourishment that led medical professionals to seek further evaluation from child protection specialists.
Rodriguez is a leader in the People’s Rights Network who was also named in the lawsuit. Bundy and Rodriguez rallied supporters to the hospital, falsely claiming the facility had kidnapped the child. Bundy was charged with trespassing for refusing to leave the ambulance bay at St. Luke’s hospital in Meridian. Days later, the antigovernment crowd forced St. Luke’s downtown Boise location into lockdown for over an hour, blocking medical staff from entering or exiting the building and forcing staff to direct patients to other facilities.
Under oath during the trial, hospital workers accused Bundy, Rodriguez and their groups of harassment, even after the pair were barred in a January protective order from harassing, threatening or intimidating witnesses.
In a press release following the verdict, St. Luke’s president and CEO Chris Roth stated, “Standing up to the threats, bullying, intimidation, disruption and self-serving actions of the defendants was necessary.” Not doing so, he said, would have “signaled that their menacing behavior was acceptable. Clearly, it is not, and the jury’s decision validates that fact.”
The judgment is a significant blow to Bundy, who, despite being involved in multiple armed standoffs with the federal government and hostile interactions with local and statewide public officials, has in the past largely escaped serious legal consequences.
Bundy and his family first made national headlines when they forced a 2014 armed standoff in Nevada with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department over grazing rights that became a rallying point for militias from across the country. Bundy followed that up with another armed confrontation over federal land management issues at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016.
Bundy emerged as a leader in the antigovernment movement, peddling his standoffs throughout the Pacific Northwest as models for engaging in armed opposition to the government and trying to convince other so-called “patriots” to follow his family’s example.
In 2020, Bundy created his People’s Rights Network, which shifted the target from public land managers to officials trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. Capitalizing on the fear generated by the pandemic and the conspiracies about the virus, the People’s Rights Network recruited followers to local chapters and targeted public health officials through such practices as physically shutting down meetings, showing up at officials’ homes and claiming any attempts to slow the spread of the virus were threats to freedom. At one point, Bundy told supporters in Idaho that he would bring antigovernment forces to help people wanting to defy public health orders.
In August 2020, Idaho State Police arrested Bundy for trespassing and obstruction of officers at the Idaho State Legislature during his protest against COVID-19 policies. He was convicted on these misdemeanor charges and ordered to pay more than $1,000 in fines and sentenced to eight days in jail. However, the sentence was commuted to 40 hours of public service to be completed in six months.
Bundy tried to claim his time campaigning for governor should count as public service. In April 2022, a judge found Bundy in contempt for not completing his public service requirements and ordered him to spend 10 days in jail and fined him $3,000. Bundy’s ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2022 focused on ousting “RINOs,” or “Republicans in Name Only.”
Bundy and Rodriguez sought to avoid the legal proceedings with St. Luke’s by dodging attempts to be served with legal notices and arrest warrants. They did not appear at the two-week trial. The jury awarded the plaintiffs, which included the hospital system, its CEO and two medical staffers, $26.5 million in compensatory damages and $26 million in punitive damages. Bundy, his campaign for governor and his People’s Rights organization are on the hook for $26 million. The portion of the judgment for Rodriguez, his Freedom Man Press and Freedom Man PAC is $26.5 million.
The hospital judgment is the latest high-profile loss for Bundy since his gubernatorial defeat in Idaho. Perhaps more notably, no regional or national players in the antigovernment movement rallied behind Bundy during the trial, which failed to spark the kind of boost for his organization that had followed Bundy’s causes in past years.
Photo illustration by SPLC