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Idaho hospital aims to get the $50 million a court ordered Ammon Bundy to pay

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The largest hospital system in Idaho is trying to collect millions of dollars in damages. A jury ruled it suffered financially after the hospital was targeted by anti-government extremist Ammon Bundy. Bundy was arrested over the weekend near his home in rural Idaho. As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, Bundy has been making a living by promoting his extreme political views for years.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: In some ways, it was just another day in Idaho during the pandemic...

(CROSSTALK)

SIEGLER: ...Days of tense, armed protests on the streets outside a downtown Boise hospital.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS BLARING)

SIEGLER: An angry mob of supporters surrounds Ammon Bundy as police cuff him for trespassing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: St. Luke's in Boise went into lockdown, and emergency services were diverted.

SIEGLER: The March 2022 protests started over the hospitalization of one of Bundy's associate's infant grandsons, who social workers said was malnourished. But they quickly devolved into QAnon conspiracies that hospital staff were part of a global child sex trafficking cabal. Bundy doxxed St. Luke's staff, giving out their home addresses on YouTube and ordering his People's Rights network to mobilize.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMMON BUNDY: Anybody who is out there, please go to the hospital. This is an emergency.

CHRIS ROTH: We never considered that we could have a scenario where literally an armed mob was going to storm a hospital.

SIEGLER: This is Chris Roth, the CEO of St. Luke's Health System, which last month won a landmark civil suit against the extremist Bundy, who was a no-show at a 10-day jury trial.

ROTH: He uses other people to carry out his message. And when he needs to be held to account or defend himself, he retreats.

SIEGLER: The Idaho jurors coming from a red-leaning county ultimately awarded St. Luke's $52 million for everything from emotional and reputational harm to very specific damages resulting from locking down a large hospital. Callers made death threats, jamming switchboards. And protesters, some armed, blocked the ambulance bays.

ROTH: It means ambulances are redirected. A pregnant mom with twins - real example - was redirected. It means our helicopters are redirected. It means our staff can't leave. It means families can't go visit their loved ones. So you bet there was a cost.

SIEGLER: Roth is hopeful the ruling will deter future extremists and signal to others intimidated by Bundy that it's OK to speak out. Rachel Kleinfeld is an extremism expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who gave testimony to the January 6 committee.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Going for the finances has a long history of working to bankrupt groups or really hateful individuals and get them to stop doing what they're doing.

SIEGLER: Experts are drawing parallels to what happened in Idaho in the early 2000s when the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil suit that effectively bankrupted the Aryan Nations. That white supremacist group helped turn the Pacific Northwest into a beacon for Klansmen and antisemites.

KLEINFELD: The Bundy verdict seems to me a lot like the huge Alex Jones verdict, where a number of regular Americans are saying, we just don't want these kind of lying conspiracies that create violence and anger. And we really want these individuals to stop, and we're going to force them to by bankrupting them.

SIEGLER: But it's not clear whether Ammon Bundy will ever pay. Amid mounting pressure, he was finally arrested Friday night on an outstanding warrant from April that banned him from intimidating witnesses in the civil case. In the days and weeks leading up to this, he's remained a fixture on social media, saying he's done nothing wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUNDY: People have to stop believing the mainstream media. You just have to.

SIEGLER: So far, though, the courts have been ineffective at shutting the Bundys down. Ammon's polarizing father, Cliven, still owes well over $1 million for continuing to graze his cattle illegally on federal land in Nevada. And in 2016, a jury acquitted Ammon Bundy for staging an armed takeover at a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon. A government report concluded that 41-day siege cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7 million. Because the Bundys are known for standoffs, there are renewed security concerns now that there's a callout for his followers to descend on the rural town where he was arrested. Gary Raney, the former sheriff of Ada County, Idaho's most populous, says that could cost even more money and possibly lives.

GARY RANEY: Many of the typical people who follow somebody like Bundy are not law-abiding citizens who have a job and made to report and go to their office Monday through Friday. You know, there are people who are sort of drifters and don't really have a purpose.

SIEGLER: Raney commends the hospital for going after Bundy's finances, as he thinks it will send a strong message. Hospital attorneys will soon begin a process of freezing assets, contacting the banks used by people in Bundy's organization and demanding their money. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Boise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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