Authorities on Tuesday arrested anti-government activist Ammon Bundy at the Idaho Statehouse after he refused to leave a meeting room where a few hours earlier angry protesters forced out lawmakers.
Bundy didn’t respond to a reporter’s shouted questions as he was wheeled into an elevator in a chair he apparently refused to get out of. At least two others were also arrested after police cleared the room, and they also refused to follow police commands to leave. Another person was taken into custody earlier in the same room where protesters shouted down lawmakers.
The incident follows another on Monday when angry protesters forced their way into the Idaho House gallery that had limited seating because of the coronavirus pandemic and the window of a glass door was shattered as protesters jostled with police. At least one of them was seen carrying an assault-style weapon.
Protesters were ultimately let in when Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke stepped in, seeking to avoid violence. Few of them were wearing masks.
Lawmakers are meeting in a special session called by Republican Gov. Brad Little because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bundy and other protesters are opposed to a proposed liability law intended to shield schools, businesses and government entities from lawsuits from people who get COVID-19. Some lawmakers also oppose the legislation they say will remove accountability.
Tuesday’s unrest started when the committee chairman, Republican Rep. Greg Chaney, directed two people sitting in an area reserved for credentialled members of the media to leave those seats. Press credentials are controlled by the Capitol Correspondents Association.
“I’m not sure precisely what their goal is, but I’m absolutely sure that the two individuals whom I asked to leave were intending to create a scene,” Chaney said.
“At times in the last 24 to 36 hours, this building has descended into complete chaos, and the only way to make sure that all citizens feel comfortable coming here to be heard is to make sure that we don’t allow rule deviations in general.”
Bundy led Nevada, Oregon standoffs
The committee considering that legislation left the meeting room as at least a dozen Idaho State Police formed a shield between them and the crowd of more than 100.
Bundy, who led a standoff with government agents over land in Nevada in 2014 as well as the 2016 occupation of the federal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took one of the credentialled media seats after lawmakers left the room.
He said police and lawmakers were itching to exert their authority after Monday’s incident. He said he hadn’t instructed anyone to disrupt the meeting, and he challenged those who qualified as a credentialled member of the media.
“What does credentialled mean? Who is the freedom of the press for? Those who have credentials? No, it’s not,” he told The Associated Press. “The freedom of the press is a protection for the people. Your credentials are great, and I think you guys do a much better job at it than we do, but the fact is the government is not supposed to say this person has the freedom of the press and has a right to be in a certain place and these people don’t.”
The committee convened later in the day in a different room with heavy security and approved a public hearing for the liability legislation.
Meanwhile, another committee earlier in the day killed legislation intended to allow greater opportunity for in-person voting for the Nov. 3 general election amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The House’s state affairs committee voted 10-5 to kill the legislation that was a primary reason Republican Gov. Brad Little called the part-time legislature back for a special session.
The legislation would have allowed counties to create voting centres where residents from different precincts could vote. Elections officials say they are facing a shortage of poll workers and potentially polling sites in November because of the pandemic.