Ammon Bundy, a controversial figure known for his past armed standoffs with federal law enforcement, is now facing a defamation lawsuit filed by St. Luke’s Health System. The lawsuit accuses Bundy, his close associate Diego Rodriguez, and their various political and business entities of making false statements against the hospital, causing millions of dollars in damages, and inciting their supporters to harass and intimidate hospital staff.
The defamation lawsuit has its roots in an incident that took place two months prior to the filing when Rodriguez’s 10-month-old grandson was temporarily removed from family custody over concerns about his health. Medical personnel at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center determined the child was malnourished and had lost weight. The baby was temporarily placed in the care of the state and returned to his parents after about a week.
Bundy and Rodriguez, however, claimed the child was wrongfully taken from a loving family after he began experiencing episodes of vomiting after trying solid foods. They maintained that the child was healthy and needed to stay with his mother to breastfeed. In response, Bundy urged his followers to protest the hospital and the homes of child protection service workers, law enforcement officers, and others involved in the child protection case.
On his website, Rodriguez wrote that the baby was “kidnapped” and suggested that the state and people involved in the case were engaged in “child trafficking” for profit. The hospital, in turn, claimed that Bundy, Rodriguez, and their various political organizations orchestrated a widespread smear campaign against the hospital in order to raise their own profiles and enrich themselves.
St. Luke’s Health System is seeking millions of dollars in damages and has asked a judge to bar both men from making any statements calling hospital officials criminals or claiming that they participate in the abuse, kidnapping, trafficking, or killing of children.
Bundy’s response to the defamation lawsuit bears a striking resemblance to his rhetoric during previous armed standoffs with federal law enforcement in Nevada and Oregon. He has been posting frequent YouTube videos and participating in far-right media interviews while sending out a “call to action” text to members of the People’s Rights network. However, his recent efforts have not garnered the same level of support as his previous standoffs. While dozens initially gathered in response to Bundy’s call, the numbers have dwindled down to a handful.
Devin Burghart, the director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, has been hired by St. Luke’s attorneys as an expert witness in the defamation lawsuit. He believes that Bundy is following a “blueprint” and using rhetoric similar to that used in the Oregon and Nevada standoffs to escalate the conflict. “If he’s able to take this trial and turn it into a larger confrontation, that could be very problematic,” Burghart said.
Although the in-person response to Bundy’s call has been relatively limited, the online reaction has been significant. At least three witnesses in the defamation lawsuit are unwilling to testify against Bundy in court due to fear of harm from his supporters. Court documents filed by St. Luke’s reveal that one nurse installed a security system in her home and was scared to wear her hospital badge outside of work. Another health professional stated that she repeatedly lost sleep and was traumatized because Bundy supporters accused her and others of kidnapping or harming children.
Despite the ongoing legal battle, Ammon Bundy maintains that he will not stop making the allegedly defamatory statements against St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center. He told The Associated Press in April, “I believe it’s my absolute right to be able to say those things. The judge doesn’t have the authority to take those away; they’re inalienable rights.” Bundy has also recently requested that the case be moved to federal court.
Sheriff’s deputies have visited Bundy’s property at least twice in recent weeks to serve the arrest warrant but left each time after being told Bundy was not home. Bundy has stated that he would rather “go back to Heavenly Father” than return to jail, although contempt convictions typically carry a maximum jail sentence of five days under Idaho law.
The defamation lawsuit against Bundy and Rodriguez highlights the ongoing tension between the pair and the institutions they target. It also serves as a reminder of the potential risks associated with misinformation and the power of rhetoric in escalating conflicts.
While Bundy’s previous armed standoffs garnered significant support and attention, this time, he has not managed to rally the same level of support from his followers. This could be indicative of a change in public sentiment or a growing weariness with his confrontational tactics.
Regardless of the outcome of the defamation lawsuit, this latest standoff involving Ammon Bundy raises questions about the role of public figures in influencing and inciting action, the limits of free speech, and the potential consequences of unchecked misinformation.
As the legal battle continues to unfold, it remains to be seen whether the defamation lawsuit will lead to a larger confrontation, as Burghart suggests, or if it will merely serve as another chapter in Bundy’s history of conflicts with authorities and institutions. In the meantime, the case serves as a cautionary tale about the power of words and the importance of responsible discourse in today’s increasingly polarized society.