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Idaho militia leader Ammon Bundy is due back in court. But will he show up?

Ammon Bundy speaks to a crowd of supporters in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Heath Druzin
Boise State Public Radio
Ammon Bundy speaks to a crowd of supporters in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Antigovernment militant Ammon Bundy is scheduled to appear in a Boise, Idaho, court today facing charges in a civil lawsuit stemming from a tense protest in 2022 that led to the lockdown of one of Idaho's largest hospitals.

St Luke's health system filed suit against Bundy last year after his far-right People's Rights groupstaged a protestagainst the hospitalization of one of his associate's grandkids. With Bundy supporters stationing themselves outside hospital doors, and some calling for violence on social media, things became tense enough that the downtown Boise hospital was put on lockdown briefly. Emergency services had to be diverted to another facility in the suburbs.

It's not clear whether Bundy will show up in court, as he's spent much of the past year not responding to the civil case. In February, attorneys for St. Luke's filed a motion for contempt against Bundy and are reportedly asking for punitive damages of $7.5 million. A district court judge later issued an arrest warrant for Bundy for failing to show up in court.

That warrant has not been served and Bundy remains free.

The Idaho Capitol Sun quoted a sworn court statement by St. Luke's CEO Chris Roth from late last year: "I believe it is important that St. Luke's stands up to the bullying, intimidation, disruption, and self-serving and menacing actions ... inaction would signal that this type of behavior is acceptable in our community. It is not."

In recent videos posted to social media, Bundy has remained defiant, claiming the hospital is harassing him.

"The people should have tore down the hospital to get that baby," Bundy says in one recent You Tube video. "If I'm wrong I need therapy, I think. I truly believe people have the right to defend themselves."

The civil case is just the latest in a string of legal battles going back to 2014 for Bundy, now a resident of Emmett, Idaho. Then, he helped his father Cliven lead an armed standoff over cattle grazing near the family's Nevada ranch. In eastern Oregon in 2016, Ammon Bundy led a 41 day armed occupation of a federal bird sanctuary and was later acquitted by a jury on conspiracy charges.

During the pandemic, Bundy and his supporters were a frequent presence disrupting public meetings in the Boise area over mask rules and other health orders. In 2021, Bundy was arrested for trespassing and banned from the Idaho state capitol for one year.

His latest public fight with the hospital has led to concerns of yet another standoff brewing outside his rural Idaho home. A local sheriff this spring warned Bundy had become increasingly aggressive. In a recent op-ed letter, several retired Idaho law enforcement officials accused Bundy and his followers of intimidating and defaming police officers, hospital workers and other civil servants.

"Bundy and his followers recklessly break the law and then cry 'persecution' when they are forced to face the consequences of their illegal actions," they wrote.

The jury trial is scheduled to begin today in Boise.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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