Bundy and two others were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, according to state police. Bundy was also charged with resisting and obstructing officers, a misdemeanor. State police also removed and cited a fourth protester for misdemeanor trespassing for refusing to leave a seating area meant for reporters earlier on Tuesday.
On Monday, chaos erupted as state lawmakers convened for the first day of a special legislative session. Last week, Republican Gov. Brad Little called for the special legislative session to address issues prompted by the pandemic, including election law changes ahead of November and civil liability standards related to the pandemic.
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D) was in her office on Monday when she heard a deafening sound. She ran out to see dozens of protesters charging into the gallery overlooking the floor of the House of Representatives — a group of protesters that she said included Bundy.
The gallery had been cordoned off, Rubel said, to allow state lawmakers to remain socially distanced rather than have members gather in large groups on the House floor. But now the protesters had broken down the gallery door, ripped up signs and pulled down the rope that was meant to reserve distanced seats for legislators.
“Guards were charged, the gallery was overrun,” she said.
As protesters packed into the gallery and into committee rooms, lawmakers expressed concern about the breakdown in efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
But even before the raucous demonstrations ensued, Rubel said, she was concerned about the lack of effort for social distancing protocols in the Capitol.
“There was no effort at all to distance, no masks, no nothing. It was taking on the look of a super-spreader event,” she said. “The session overall, everywhere you looked, committee rooms were packed, really no effort to distance everybody. You would never guess there was a pandemic going on.”
Rubel said Bundy, who led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, “appeared to be a motivating force” for the protests.
Bundy testified this week against a proposed bill meant to limit civil liability claims during the pandemic, according to the Idaho Press, telling lawmakers: “The Idaho people are more than capable of keeping themselves safe. … We the people are tired. We are tired of government force, and we will only take it for so long. I recommend you act wisely, because we will not live in fear.”
Rubel said the protesters, some of whom she said were carrying firearms, appeared to be objecting to measures taken to address the coronavirus crisis, including mask orders, shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. She said, “One of the things people were most agitated about was they were wanting to declare an end to the state of emergency.”
The Idaho House of Representatives voted Tuesday to advance a measure that ends the governor’s emergency declaration. Rubel said she is not sure whether the measure will pass the Senate.
During the Monday demonstration, Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke (R) eventually allowed protesters to stay in the House gallery and fill every seat.
“At that point, it calmed down and they were asked to observe decorum, and generally they did,” Rubel said.
Bedke told the Associated Press that he wanted to “try to avoid violence.” “My initial reaction, of course, was to clear the fourth floor. But we had room for at least some more,” he said.
He also told the AP he was disappointed by the protesters’ violence. “I think we’re better than that,” Bedke said. “I think that Idahoans expect more out of their citizens.”
In a statement, Idaho State Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said an investigation is underway to determine whether there was any criminal behavior during Monday’s events.
“Each incident is a careful balance between the right to free speech and the needs of public safety, with Troopers very aware that their own actions may escalate or de-escalate a situation with immediate impact on the safety of all involved,” Hightower said. “The situation outside the House Chambers Monday broke out in a matter of moments. Troopers acted in such a way as to ensure the important business of the Legislature could continue under these extraordinary circumstances.”
“I’ve seen a lot of heated debates in Idaho, and it’s not uncommon for folks to come in heavily armed,” Rubel said. “But I’ve never seen anything in my seven sessions that rose to the level of what has happened over the last two days. I’ve never seen guards rushed and overrun, or doors being broken down.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not report the correct title for House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel. It has been updated.
Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.