BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The founder of a far-right anti-government group says a report estimating the organization’s fast growth over the past year undercounted by half. Ammon Bundy took issue with the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights report, saying People’s Rights is actually much larger and more of a network than an official organization.
The report, released last week, found that the organization has grown by roughly 53% in the past year to more than 33,000 members, rapidly expanding nationwide and making inroads into Canada.
“The IREHR report is drastically inaccurate. Not sure where they pulled their info from,” Bundy wrote in an email on Saturday. People’s Rights now had 62,337 members as of Saturday, he said.
“I’m glad they under reported so the FBI does not think we are too much of a threat to ‘democracy,’” Bundy wrote. ”If we keep growing the way we are the FBI may get jealous and throw me in jail for no reason again.”
Bundy — who started People’s Rights amid a wave of backlash against public health measures taken at the start of the coronavirus pandemic — is best known for leading a group of armed activists in the occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016. But Bundy was acquitted of all federal charges in that case by an Oregon jury. In 2014, Bundy, several brothers and his father led an armed standoff in Nevada with Bureau of Land Management agents who attempted to confiscate his father’s cattle for grazing on public land without a permit. The Nevada criminal case against Bundy ended in a mistrial, but he spent nearly two years behind bars awaiting the resolution of the two court cases.
At the start of last year, People’s Rights had just under 22,000 members nationally, according to an earlier report by IREHR and the Montana Human Right’s Network. IREHR Research Director Chuck Tanner said the organization’s political ideology centers on pre-Civil War interpretations of the U.S. Constitution and Christian nationalism.
“What People’s Rights does is spread really radical ideas about overturning civil rights in the United States,” Tanner said last week. “This is a broad-based, anti-Democratic and bigoted social movement.”
In a phone interview late Friday afternoon, Bundy said People’s Rights is more of a network than an organization, and claimed the network doesn’t profess any ideology other than the principals spelled out at the start of the Declaration of Independence.
“It’s a network of individuals that are looking for a way to secure their liberty, but other than giving them tools of how to do that, each area is completely on their own to be able to do whatever they decide to communicate, even whatever they decide to do,” Bundy said. “There’s very few restrictions that we have placed upon them.”
According to the People’s Rights website, the network seems akin to an emergency militia service, with members agreeing to help defend each other against “government criminals.”
“Who would you call right now if you needed help defending your rights against a government agency?” the website asks readers. It goes on to suggest that things such as vaccination mandates and child protection investigations might be reasons that the network would be activated in a “call to action.”
The network is divided into regions, where leaders sometimes hold training sessions on HAM radios, firearms or emergency first aid. At times members in certain regions are asked to attend protests or take other actions to “defend your rights.” Much of the networks’ activity in the past year has been focused on opposing public health measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. In Idaho, People’s Rights members have used the network to spread misinformation about coronavirus, advised each other on how to obtain medications that aren’t approved for treating COVID-19, and staged protests outside of government officials’ homes.
Bundy said the group isn’t “anti-government,” though he acknowledged that he and other members were ready to take action against the government if needed.
“If it’s government trying to take the rights, we will have to unite against them,” he said. “It happens. We don’t need to get all emotional about it. We just need to appear and unite together so we can all get through it.”