Ammon Bundy announces his candidacy for governor of Idaho during a campaign event on June 19, 2021 in Boise, Idaho.(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy officially threw his stetson hat into the ring for Idaho governor over the weekend, vowing to fight back against “Joe Biden and the deep state that controls him.” Bundy kicked off his campaign at a grill in a park in Meridian, Idaho, on Sunday. While he and his infamous rancher family flipped burgers, Bundy’s team rolled out his campaign website featuring a video, merch, and a bespoke campaign anthem, plus a downloadable ringtone version.
“He set his sights/ on fighting the good old fight / For what’s right / So let’s show them big guns tonight,” the unnamed singer croons in “Vote for Bundy.” Bundy’s video and spiel focuses on unspecific grievances against the federal government. “I’m tired of our freedoms being taken from us,” Bundy said. “We know that the federal government under Joe Biden and the existing establishment will continue their onslaught against the people. We simply cant afford to have leadership in our state back down and comply with federal tyranny.”Some examples of “tyranny” under Biden that Bundy offers are gun control, parental rights (like the government's involvement in education), and religious freedom. (It’s worth noting that Biden has touted his executive order ending his predecessors “Muslim ban” as evidence of his committment to religious freedom). Bundy’s run for governor has been simmering in Idaho since May, when he first filed paperwork. He’s also currently banned from the Idaho statehouse, after he led maskless anti-lockdown protesters to storm the Capitol last August and then tied himself to an office chair inside. (He was arrested and wheeled out of the building by police).
His campaign website has an entire section dedicated to “debunking” “lies” or “smears” about him. For example, his team tries to set the record straight onone “smear” that “Ammon creates mayhem just for political attention.”
He clarifies: “I have never asked for the limelight. And even now, I don't like it nor do I want it,” adding that he’d rather be spending time with his family on the ranch but says he’s obliged to attend to the “fire God has put in me to expose corruption and preserve liberty.” Bundy is entering an already crowded race, which includes the state’s lieutenant governor Janice McGeachin, who positioned herself as a proponent of COVID-19 restrictions, including mask ordinances, and has repeatedly clashed with incumbent Gov. Brad Little on that issue. Little is also running, along with five other Republicans. The Cook Political Report anticipates that Idaho, which voted overwhelmingly for former president Donald Trump in the 2020 election, will remain in GOP control. Whether Bundy even has a shot at winning the primary next year may depend, in part, on the resilience, commitment, and expansion of People’s Rights, a network of anti-government activists, conspiracy theorists, anti-maskers, and anti-vaxxers that he built off the back of opposition to COVID-19 restrictions. The network ballooned from a few dozen people in Bundy’s Idaho warehouse last March to around 20,000 in October and has grown to about 35,000 strong in at least 16 states, according to the Missouri-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR).
Given the state’s support for Trump in the 2020 election, Bundy may find himself having to answer for or walk back previous criticisms of the former president. In 2018, he briefly “quit the patriot movement” due to its blind support of Trump and opposition to the “migrant caravan” making its way to the southern border. His support base collapsed rapidly, and he even temporarily deleted his social media amid the backlash. Three years and a pandemic later, he seems to have rehabilitated his image among anti-government types.Bundy’s announcement that he’s serious about running for governor also coincides with a simmering crisis over water in southwest Oregon, which People’s Rights has mobilized in response to. The fight is over federal restrictions on water needed by farmers near the Klamath Basin to irrigate their crops. The restrictions were put in place during a historic drought. Farmers in the area have vowed to turn on the water flow and standoff with federal authorities. Bundy ventured the possibility of violence in an interview with the New York Times. “Who cares if there is violence,” he told the Times. “At least something will be worked out. “‘Oh, we don’t want violence, we’ll just starve to death.’ Heaven forbid we talk about violence.” It’s not clear whether he remains committed to the situation in Klamath now that he’s formalized his run for governor. Any possible involvement in Klamath would be a return to Bundy’s original playbook. He made a name for himself through armed standoffs, first at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, when the Bureau of Land Management attempted to confiscate his cattle after he broke the rules by letting them graze on public land without a permit. Two years later, Bundy led his own standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, in protest of the treatment of two ranchers who were convicted on charges of federal land arson.