Militia leader Ammon Bundy said he was considering fleeing Idaho, but God told him to go to court—conveniently in time for an arraignment that, if skipped, could have led to his arrest.
Bundy, a right-wing figure who rose to fame in a pair of armed standoffs against law enforcement, is facing two lawsuits from St. Luke’s Health System. The Idaho-based hospital group says Bundy and his activist organization, the People’s Rights network (PRN), defamed doctors by falsely accusing them of child trafficking. Bundy did not participate in the defamation lawsuit, and was ordered to pay $26 million after he lost a default ruling this summer. St. Luke’s sued Bundy a second time this month, accusing him of hiding assets to avoid paying the default.
Bundy was also arrested for contempt of court this month, and released on a $10,000 bond. He stood to be re-arrested and lose his bond if he did not appear in court on Tuesday, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Bundy is representing himself in the St. Luke’s lawsuits. But in public posts ahead of the Tuesday court date, during which he was scheduled to be arraigned on the contempt charges, he described himself as in conversation with the almighty about whether to show up at court. He also implied that his followers might take physical action to prevent St. Luke’s from collecting on the $26 million judgment.
“Do I flee Idaho with nothing, leaving all I have for you to take and then start over somewhere else?” Bundy wrote on Monday in a public letter to attorney Erik Stidham, who is representing St. Luke’s. “Do I grind through the legal process with no funds to really fight back, allowing you and St Luke’s to look justified in your terrible assault on the rights of parents and freedom of speech, just to have everything taken from me anyway? Do I unite my neighbors, friends and family to physically defend against this terrible assault on liberty and the right to keep the fruits of my labor?
“It is hard for me to know what God wants me to do right now, therefore, I have not yet decide if I will be attending the hearing today.”
Bundy did not, in fact, attend the Monday court appearance. But with legal stakes mounting ahead of the Tuesday court date, he and PRN members rolled out a series of questionably advisable legal tactics.
On Monday night, Bundy took to YouTube to announce that he and his family had begun packing up their belongings for an interstate move—”we just said ‘let’s just leave. We’ll go to another state”—when God intervened.
“We started boxing up our house and I just couldn’t see and had been asking the lord for direction and just couldn’t see an end to this and scheduled a moving truck, and the day the moving truck was scheduled to come, I—praying the whole time—the day the moving truck was scheduled to come, I woke up early in the morning,” Bundy said in a Monday night live stream. “And I felt very, very clear understanding from God, and I believe and know that that happens [...] I felt very clear understanding that I was not to leave Idaho yet, that I was to stay and fight.”
PRN members also got involved on Tuesday, organizing protests outside the courthouse, outside the offices of St. Luke’s legal team, and at the home of a judge who was previously involved in the case, according to Devin Burghart, executive director of the civil rights watchdog Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
PRN members also printed out flyers attacking the former judge, to distribute in the judge’s neighborhood, the Statesman reported.
Bundy represented himself at the court appearance, during which he asked the court to read his arraignment documents to him, a process that took approximately 30 minutes. The court set his contempt trial date for Oct. 2, and advised him to come back with a lawyer.
“I think you would be at a disadvantage if you represented yourself,” the judge said. “I strongly urge you not to represent yourself. You can make your decision and advise me at the time the trial is set.”