Ammon Bundy’s organization descends on Idaho official’s home in latest misguided anti-mask protest
As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to increase at an alarming rate nationwide, many people still refuse to wear masks and follow safety precautions. As of this report, more than 15.2 million people in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19 and at least 286,400 have died as a result, according to data compiled by The New York Times. As the Trump administration continues to disregard the severity of this pandemic, local and state officials are taking matters into their own hands—but not without opposition.
Anti-maskers are stooping to lower levels as they protest mandates put in place for their own safety. Within minutes of the start of a public health district meeting in Idaho Tuesday regarding a local mask mandate, anti-maskers swarmed the home of some local health officials attending the virtual meeting. Among the officials targeted was Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, who feared for her son’s safety.
Lachiondo had learned anti-mask protesters had gathered outside her home through a phone call, which quickly made her visibly upset. “My 12-year-old son is home by himself right now, and there are protesters banging outside the door,” Lachiondo told the Central District Health’s Board of Health in tears before excusing herself. “I’m going to go home and make sure he’s okay.” According to The Washington Post, the Central District Health’s Board of Health serves four counties in Idaho’s most populous region.
After Lachiondo left the meeting her colleagues learned that protesters had gathered outside of the Central District Health office and one other board member’s home as well. Anti-maskers protesting the order were also joined by counterprotesters who support safety measures. These demonstrators carried signs depicting the number of individuals impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
“I’m a father and that’s just unbelievable,” David Peterman, a doctor present during the virtual meeting, said after Lachiondo left.
Because of the protests taking place less than 15 minutes after the meeting began, both Mayor Lauren McLean and Boise police requested that the board cancel it. “No child should be frightened by a mob of protesters,” McLean said, “no local official should fear violence for their public service.”
McLean also faced protesters outside her home, some of whom carried Tiki torches and other items as weapons, KTVB reported. “Our officers were asked to respond to people from outside our community whose purpose here was to disrupt local government in action, to intimidate their families,” McLean said in a statement Tuesday night. “This is not ok. Let me be clear: we will hold offenders accountable.”
Protesters blamed the safety precautions the mayor enforced for a struggling economy and yelled worrisome threats like, “Snitches get stitches,” according to KTVB7. “Their protests at my home over the summer were worrisome, as those protests were marked by the absence of basic public health efforts: masks and distancing,” McLean’s statement continued. “It’s especially concerning right now, as we head into a long, dark winter with our case numbers rising rapidly and our hospital systems on the brink of having to ration care.”
The anti-mask protests were organized by People’s Rights, an organization founded by alt-right activist Ammon Bundy. Through text messages, individuals were encouraged to protest a public health order that limited gatherings to fewer than 10 people and required face masks to be worn in both public and private settings where non-household members were gathered and social distancing was not possible. According to a statement issued by the health district, after receiving more than 3,000 comments on the matter, the health board was set to vote on the order Tuesday.
Police formed barriers around protesters and the health building as a precaution due to similar concerns from last week. According to The Washington Post, on Friday protesters tried to force their way into the Central District Health building when health officials were meeting in regards to delaying a vote on coronavirus safety measures to Tuesday. The group also threatened it would return in “BIGGER, STRONGER, and LOUDER” numbers Tuesday. According to police, while no one was arrested, one person was placed under citizen’s arrest for trespassing and later taken into police custody.
The second official whose home protesters gathered outside of was Ted Epperly, a physician in Ada County. Epperly told The Idaho Statesman that about 15 people were gathered outside his home, “beating garbage cans and flashing strobe lights through my windows. Two came up and knocked on my door during the meeting.” He added that he was “disappointed that we had to table the vote.”
In response to the protests, Gov. Brad Little issued a statement on Twitter Tuesday night calling the actions of these anti-maskers “reprehensible.” “It is nothing more than a bullying tactic that seeks to silence. Our right to free speech should not be used to intimidate and scare others,” he said on Twitter. “There is no place for this behavior in Idaho. I urge calm among Idahoans so we can get through the pandemic together, stronger.”
With cases of the novel coronavirus increasing daily, more than 113,905 Idaho residents have been infected and over 1,000 have died as a result. According to the Post, as of Tuesday, the state broke its record average of new daily coronavirus cases. Health care professionals fear hospitals will reach capacity should the rate of infection not be better controlled.
“Our community is being severely impacted by this virus and our team members and board are working tirelessly to protect our community’s health,” Russ Duke, district director for Central District Health, said in a statement Tuesday. “We simply ask that those who may disagree with these difficult discussion points and decisions do so in a way that is respectful and does not endanger our staff, board of health members, and our law enforcement, all who are critical in this response.”