Joey Gibson was struggling to find a parking place for his flag-festooned pickup truck. The residential Boise, Idaho, neighborhood was already crowded with people and vehicles, including a large motorhome with a “MAGA MONSTA” sign. (“She parked right in front of my driveway,” a resident shouted about the motorhome. “That’s not okay.”)
Many in the crowd on Saturday were not locals. Gibson, the leader of the far-right streetfighting group Patriot Prayer, had traveled interstate from western Washington. He and others were there to protest outside the home of a judge involved in the case of Ammon Bundy, the leader of a different far-right group. The protest, which Gibson helped promote by sharing the judge’s address on the Internet, was a melting pot of fringe activists deeply invested in Bundy’s already-contentious court case.
“We need civil disobedience and we need people who are courageous enough to go to jail while you guys haul them in there,” Gibson shouted through a megaphone at police who guarded Magistrate Judge David Manweiler house, while a crowd waved signs on the suburban street.
The protest outside Manweiler’s home, which was followed by a demonstration outside a Boise courthouse, was the latest development in Bundy’s escalating, and unusual, legal drama. The saga is testing the power of an alleged nationwide network of far-right activists Bundy calls People’s Rights, but also the ability of the legal system in a conservative state to hold even the most idolized far-right figures accountable.
Bundy rose to prominence with two armed standoffs against federal agents: first, in 2014, in Nevada, with his father Cliven, and again at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. (In the latter case, Bundy and associates occupied a federal building at Malheur, and he was found not guilty on all charges related to the standoff.) When COVID-19 swept the country in Spring 2020, Bundy returned to the headlines, this time leading a new group called the People’s Rights network (web registry records suggest he’d begun work on the group pre-pandemic).
Do you know something we should about the far right or Ammon Bundy? Email Kelly.Weill@TheDailyBeast.com or securely at email@example.com from a non-work device.
The People’s Rights network championed aggressive demonstrations, often by inserting themselves into elected officials’ personal lives. The group temporarily shut down an Idaho health board meeting by swarming health officials’ homes in December, and members have also allegedly trespassed into Idaho’s State Capitol in an August incident that served as an eerie forewarning to January’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The demonstrations have led to a series of arrests for Bundy, including one at a high school football game where he refused to wear a mask, and another at the Idaho Capitol. That latter arrest, on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest, set off a cascade of legal spats that led to people like Gibson and the driver of the “MAGA MONSTA” protesting outside Manweiler’s home.
In March, Bundy was due to appear in court for his trespassing case. But he and another defendant refused to wear masks in the courthouse, in violation of the building’s rules. They did not enter the building, and were eventually arrested for failure to appear for their court date.
Rather than send the new case to another criminal trial, Manweiler ordered last week that Bundy’s “failure to appear” case be resolved through mediation with another judge. But Manweiler previously attempted to mediate Bundy’s cases, as the Idaho Statesman reported, and during a mediation this summer, Bundy reportedly skipped out early.
“Mr. Bundy apparently has left the meeting,” Manweiler announced, ending the online event.
Manweiler is not overseeing the latest round of mediation. Nevertheless, Bundy fans posted his address online to advertise the Saturday protest on his street. The event drew an assortment of right-wing and anti-mask activists.
One attendee told a live streamer that she’d become involved with Bundy’s movement last year when she heard he was organizing a maskless Easter service for 1,000 people. After that, she remained involved with People’s Rights and lost her job for what she described as religious and anti-mask reasons. “I got fired in August because God told me not to wear a mask,” she said.
Gibson, who arrived with a truckload of demonstrators, represented a more militant front. Like Bundy, Gibson is the founder of a far-right organization with a shaky legal history. Gibson’s Patriot Prayer is active around Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, where its members have collaborated with groups like the Proud Boys for rowdy demonstrations, and clashed with the left. (Gibson did not immediately return a request for comment.)
Gibson is currently facing his own legal woes—even worse than Bundy’s. In August 2019, he was charged for his alleged role in a Patriot Prayer attack on a left-leaning Portland bar. According to a plainclothes police officer’s affidavit in that case, Patriot Prayer members planned to get in a fight with anti-fascists at the bar. They later descended on the left, allegedly knocking a woman unconscious and breaking one of her vertebrae with a baton.
According to the affidavit, Gibson helped verbally instigate the fight, and was seen on video pushing the woman before she was knocked unconscious. Gibson has pleaded not guilty, and attempted to fight the case by filing a lawsuit against the district attorney who filed charges against him.
A federal judge declined to take Gibson’s case in February. Still, an Oregon district attorney’s office announced in March that it would investigate the defendant’s claims against the DA. Two of Gibson’s five co-defendants in the case pleaded guilty and were sentenced in January.
On Saturday, Gibson was focused on what he implied was a conspiracy in Bundy’s case, falsely alleging that COVID-19 was a pretext for a “takeover,” possibly by China. “That’s what COVID is about,” he said. “That’s what they’re trying to do here in the United States of America.”