'The promised land': Inside the religious ideology that inspires the Bundys
Ammon Bundy, leader of the armed anti-government militia at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon, January 5, 2016 (AFP Photo/Rob Kerr)

There are generations of history that culminated in Ammon Bundy's campaign for governor, an expert on the family explained in an interview with the Idaho Statesman.

Ian Max Stevenson interviewed historian Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of the 2019 book American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God, and Public Lands in the West.

Quammen explained the history of settlement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

“I’m very interested in how people perceive landscape based on their religious points of view," she explained. "I began to look at the LDS settlement in the West and what ideas were brought with settlement. There was a real effort to establish a place that this new religion could practice without feeling oppression. In terms of the way land is viewed now, it’s important to understand that package of things that were bundled in the idea of Zion.”

Bundy is running as an independent in Idaho's governor's race after initially running in the GOP primary.

"There is the idea that as a landscape is considered promised, what that means in terms of a religious obligation to utilize it. There are also texts or revelations that you can find in Mormon history that it’s incumbent upon a member of the church to be the hero, to protect the Constitution," she explained. "You have prophecy, you have religious significance of the Constitution, you have the way that land is utilized, which all have religious implications. The Constitution is essentially part of a sacred canon. I think you’re seeing that in Idaho — and it’s not just LDS — but it is a part of what informs the Bundy family.”

She noted Bundy does not think the government can own land.

"There is a real anti-government history in the church. They were trying to escape the U.S. government," she explained. "When they went to the Great Basin, it was Mexico. And so they really felt like they were going to have this autonomy. I think it informs the way they see land, that you have this history of anti-government sentiment that continued throughout generations, especially in rural places in these areas that were settled by Mormons. There’s a history of anti-government sentiment, there is a history of generation, after generation, after generation of Mormon land use."

Many of the groups involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol were influenced by the Bundy standoffs.

“They very much connect because the militia movement has really been inspired by the actions of the Bundy family," she noted. "The Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, they both had a presence in Nevada at the standoff, and I think the Bundy family has inspired them."

Even if Bundy loses on Tuesday, Quammen expects his influence to continue to increase in Idaho.

“I feel like they still have momentum. I feel like they’re gaining power," she wrote. "You now have Dorothy Moon who is head of the Republican Party. She very much is part of this network of figures that includes Ammon Bundy. As long as the Idaho Freedom Foundation and organizations like it continue to have power, you’re going to continue to see figures like Ammon Bundy be in the public eye in some capacity.”

Quammen is currently writing the book, True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America.

Read the full interview.