Exclusive: One-on-one with Ammon Bundy on his plans to run for governor

Posted at 8:05 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 16:11:06-04

Fresh off his first criminal conviction for trespassing at the Idaho State Capitol, Emmett resident and anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is moving forward with his efforts to unseat Gov. Brad Little.

Bundy has a long history of capitalizing — by his own admission — on exposure from high profile standoffs with the government and law enforcement.

The latest confrontation pales in comparison to his standoffs with the FBI in Nevada and Oregon.

The first standoff was at his father's ranch in Nevada in 2014. The Feds said Ammon's father Cliven Bundy grazed his cattle on federal land and owed more than a million dollars in grazing fees. Bundy argues the law didn't apply to his family and calls it government overreach.

All charges against the Bundy's were eventually thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.

Still, the nationwide attention was clearly a revelation for Bundy.

In 2016, he took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for one reason — to bring attention to the convictions of two Oregon ranchers for setting federal land on fire.

"Trump only pardoned 17 people and three of them were people I advocated for," he said. "So absolutely, it was to get enough attention to the Hammonds that justice would be brought to them."

Ammon Bundy moved to Idaho six years ago from Arizona.

Related: Guilty: Ada County jury convicts Ammon Bundy on misdemeanor trespassing, resisting charges

And the pursuit of publicity for what he says is a federal government out of control continued with the onset of the pandemic. Only this time he was upset with the state government, saying Idaho Gov. Brad Little was overly influenced by the Feds.

Bundy said it's a "no-brainer" the public will realize the Governor is beholden.

"Ha ha, that's an easy sell. Just go look at the finances, he took $10 billion for COVID relief, " Bundy said.

Of course, no states, no matter how conservative, declined the initial coronavirus stimulus passed by former President Donald Trump. Bundy said the governor also went too far in shutting down the state and other restrictions. Although he admits the governor never imposed a mask mandate.

But after more than two thousand deaths in Idaho and more than 600,000 nationwide, Bundy said he still doesn't entirely believe in the pandemic.

"Certainly not in Idaho," he said.

He confirmed he has not gotten the COVID-19 vaccination.

And when asked if he thinks the vaccine is effective in protecting people, Bundy was clear.

Related: Caldwell High football game canceled mid-game after group including Ammon Bundy refused to wear masks

"My personal opinion is no," Bundy said. "I think the right way to answer that is it's unknown and because of that, that's what makes it so dangerous."

Of course, the vaccines have all undergone rigorous testing and out of millions of full vaccinations, only a tiny percentage has had significant side effects. Bundy was arrested several times at the Idaho State Capitol protesting what he calls government overreach during the pandemic.

Bundy is better known for standing up to federal agencies.

But after the coronavirus started killing hundreds of thousands of people, he directed his frustration at restrictions handed down from the state level to protect Idahoans.

"Most people refused to lock-down and it didn't change the numbers," Bundy said. "It didn't cause us to have the pandemic, which they're claiming."

Idaho has suffered 2,167 deaths and nearly 200 thousand cases, while the nation suffered the loss of 605,140 deaths so far. In opposition to coronavirus restrictions, Bundy staged protests outside the homes of public officials and police — a move those affected called reprehensible. But Bundy said he had no other option.

If he becomes governor, Bundy says he's OK with people protesting outside his house so long as they stay on public property.

'It takes someone polarizing': How Bundy sees his path to Idaho's highest office

Outside of the current governor, Bundy's top competition is expected to be Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

"There's no way Janice McGeachin can beat Brad Little, but there is a way I can. Because it takes someone polarizing. It takes someone with good name recognition," says Bundy.

When asked if McGeachin is not polarizing, Bundy said no.

"Not to the extent she has to be. No," he said. "It takes someone who the people will know will fight an establishment."

Related: Idaho gubernatorial primary grows crowded with 11 candidates

And the establishment, the Republican Party of Idaho, doesn't like Bundy. GOP leader Tom Luna issued this blistering statement after Bundy announced his candidacy:

"We do not support his antics or his chaotic political theater," the statement reads. "That is not the Idaho Republican Party, and we will not turn a blind eye to his behaviors."

But, Bundy doesn't think it hurt his political prospects.

"It only helped us absolutely," he said. "I see it as the same thing, the same battle if you will. The Republican Party needs to be cleaned up and exposed and it needs to be put back in people's hands and start benefiting people rather than the establishment."

But Bundy doesn't always see eye to eye with the former president, especially on the coronavirus vaccine, who touted the vaccine as one of his greatest accomplishments in office.

And if you think an anti-government activist would support those who held an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, think again.

"I think there was a lot of confused people there on January 6," he said.

Bundy says he also considers the House leadership to be confused for holding a ceremonial certification of the presidential vote behind what Bundy considers closed doors.

Bundy's plans for office

But what would Bundy change if he manages to win the governor's seat?

Bundy's web site lists five changes, including outlawing all abortions, no matter the circumstances. While the official Republican Party disowned Bundy, it is traditionally the self-proclaimed party of law and order.

But if Bundy has his way, illegal drug use will get a pass.

"They've learned how to function with their drug habit," he said. "And like it or not, I think they should be able to continue to function until they do something and then you punish that."

Bundy says we're putting too many people in jail, many for drug offenses.

"I think we have to come back to where we came from which is restitution-based penal system instead of incarceration-based system," he says.

Bundy wants to put the savings from fewer prisoners into mental health programs to help Idahoans suffering from drug abuse and other related issues.

But perhaps the most significant proposal is also the least surprising — putting federal land under state control.

"Basically, the state needs to take control of the lands," he said. "Absolutely needs to take control of the lands. The state would designate what's public and private."

But when it comes to specifics of how the state would take over federal land, especially if the Feds push back, Bundy offers nothing.

"It would be the state's duty to stop that. And that's what needs to happen," Bundy said.

He says the county sheriffs are the chief law enforcement officers, taking precedence over even the FBI.

But if that's truly the case, Bundy showed little respect for the chief law enforcement officer in Malheur County when he commandeered the wildlife refuge there in 2016 to protest the arrest of two ranchers who set fire to federal lands. At the time, the sheriff asked Bundy and his followers to leave, but Bundy refused.

"Well, I wasn't breaking any laws," he says. "And I was bringing a tremendous amount of attention nationally to a situation that was completely unjust."

He may have been acquitted of all charges associated with the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff, but 18 of his followers were convicted or pleaded guilty to everything from trespassing to conspiracy. And one — Lavoy Finnicum — was shot to death by police.

Although the Malheur County District Attorney found the shooting of Finicum was justified, Bundy says it shaped his opinion of police.

He says he judges police on a case-by-case basis and isn't afraid to call someone out when they've done something wrong. But Bundy says any suggestion that he would consider wholesale defunding of police is fantasy.