EMMETT, Idaho — The two dozen demonstrators pressed against the emergency room doors, screaming to be let in.
“Show us the law!” they chanted.
“Let Grandma out!” one shouted.
They had descended on Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, the evening of Jan. 29 to protest the quarantine of Gayle Meyer, a 74-year-old patient who had refused to take a test for the coronavirus.
Police in riot gear guarded entrances as the activists — who authorities said were armed — insisted that Meyer was being held against her will, a claim the hospital denied.
Meyer’s 49-year-old daughter, Satin, an anti-mask activist licensed as her caregiver, had summoned the demonstrators, foot soldiers in a rapidly expanding network called People’s Rights. With the tap of a thumb on a smartphone, members can call a militia like they’d call an Uber and stage a protest within minutes.
Experts who track extremists say that the network has significant overlap with white supremacist groups and other far-right organizations and that it has whipped up paranoia and rage, risking lives of hospital workers, health officers, politicians and others in the crosshairs.
“We have the potential for multiple Malheurs in multiple states, in that at any moment they could bring hardened far-right activists, often heavily armed, into any one event,” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.
Group leaders envision a form of “neighborhood nationalism,” in which the “righteous” stand against the “wicked,” the report said.
He said he never supported President Donald Trump and didn’t vote in the last two presidential elections. In 2016, he was in prison awaiting trial, and this past November he didn’t see a point. Contending that the COVID-19 death toll is massively exaggerated, he said that Trump should have worked harder to keep churches and businesses open.
Ammon Bundy left the ranch as a young man, first for Minnesota for two years of Mormon mission service and then to Southern Utah University. Later he moved to Phoenix, where he ran a truck repair business for 14 years.
2016 FILE PHOTO: Sheriff Dave Ward meets with Ammon Bundy on the side of the road at the intersection of a state highway and the road leading into the back entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Beth Nakamura/Staff LC-
Bundy was arrested during a traffic stop outside the refuge and eventually tried on weapons and conspiracy charges. A militant who fled the stop was shot and killed.
In March, he gathered several dozen supporters in a warehouse he owns in Emmett. In its first public act, the group defied Republican Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home directive and held an Easter service for about 60 people. The same month, police arrested Sara Brady, an anti-vaccine activist, for allegedly trespassing during an anti-lockdown protest at a Boise-area playground closed due to coronavirus restrictions.
In July, he led demonstrators to a public building in Caldwell, Idaho, where they tried to barge into a meeting of officials who were discussing whether to impose a local mask mandate.
“This is not your building,” Bundy shouted as he shoved a man guarding the doorway, video of the protest shows.
In November, People’s Rights members carrying Tiki torches gathered in front of Boise Mayor Lauren McLean’s house to protest coronavirus health restrictions. Many of the roughly 30 demonstrators were not wearing masks, and several shouted opposition to a city call for residents to report businesses violating pandemic regulations.
“Snitches get stitches,” one woman yelled.
“My 12-year-old son is home alone right now, and protesters are banging outside the door,” Diana Lachiondo announced.
In the interview last month, held at a restaurant in Emmett, where masks are optional and few people wear them, Bundy defended his group’s methods, saying the government and society are “deteriorating” — that courts are unjust, legislatures trample rights and families allow the state to educate and influence their children.
“People will need more and more to be able to find security,” he said.
“Within an hour and a half, we had a couple of hundred people there and a couple of thousand people coming,” Bundy said. “Once the hospital started to see there was literally a presence of people, they retracted their position, blamed it on the health department and released the baby.”
“You don’t get to take somebody’s baby and think you have a side of justice,” he said. “It was black and white.”
The video shows a protester trying to pry open locked double doors, and a deputy spraying chemical irritant in his face. The protesters cheered when the hospital released Meyer, whose tearful daughter wheeled her out and helped her into a van.
“Freedom!” a man yelled.
Stewart, a longtime Bundy compatriot, berated law enforcement for siding with the hospital instead of the protesters. She said that right-wing activists who joined “back the blue” rallies last summer and waved American flags with blue lines had been duped.
“We’re starting to learn that you’re actually the standing army our founders warned us against,” she said. “They’re just dangerous tyrants. We’re having a blue-line flag-burning party tonight.”