Ammon Bundy, the Idaho rancher who led an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge, has vowed to defy state orders to remain at home so he can stage a massive Easter dinner he said he hopes will attract hundreds. Bundy issued a blanket invitation on his Facebook page for Sunday services and a potluck dinner at a warehouse in Emmett, which would violate orders by Gov. Brad Little to avoid group gatherings as way to contain spread of the coronavirus.
The state has more than 1,350 confirmed cases and 24 deaths.
The militia leader claims the order violates constitutional rights to peacefully assemble. Bundy gained national attention in 2016, when he headed an armed occupation of federal wildlife land in Oregon. A trial followed, which ended in the dismissal of charges on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.
"Our goal is to get enough people together and secure our rights. ... We are not trying to provoke, we want people to be able to worship," Bundy said in a phone interview with CNN.
Gov. Little issued the order on March 25. It is scheduled to expire April 15, but he said this week he likely will extend the restrictions until the end of the month.
Bundy also claims the ban on public gatherings will bankrupt local businesses.
He accused the governor of "trampling on the people of Idaho's rights, causing them to lose their dreams so he can line the pockets of his top agencies with federal money. Disgrace!" he wrote on his Facebook page.
The 44-year-old rancher told CNN, "I actually want the virus, I'm healthy, my family is healthy. I'd rather have it now so my body is immune to it."
The Boise Police Department is aware of Bundy's plans.
"Officers have been focused on gaining voluntary compliance," police spokeswoman Haley Williams said in a statement. "As a last resort, if we are unable to do that, then we would refer the report to the prosecutor's office for possible misdemeanor charges authorized by the governor's order."
Bundy is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who waged a long battle against the Bureau of Land Management in 2014 over grazing rights for his cattle.
The family had refused pay more than $1 million in federal fees.