The city of Nezperce declared a local emergency and is urging residents to stay home Saturday when a rally for Sean Anderson, who is charged with felony aggravated assault on a peace officer, is planned to take place.
Ammon Bundy of Emmett, who led the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, in 2016, has called for people to converge at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in Nezperce. The rally is in support of Anderson, who was involved in a shootout with law enforcement officers July 18 in Ferdinand. Anderson, 52, is being held in the Nez Perce County Jail and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on the matter Thursday.
Nezperce Mayor Steve Bateman said the local emergency was declared primarily to protect the residents of the town from COVID-19 infection.
“We want them (Bundy and his followers) to come and do their thing and keep it peaceful and respectful,” Bateman said. “But we’ve kept (COVID-19) out of Nezperce this long, and we have a lot of elderly people here. So we’re kind of concerned about that.”
Lewis County is the only place in the five-county region of north-central Idaho that has not reported a case of the coronavirus. Nezperce, a town of a little more than 500 people, is the county seat. Gem County, where Emmett is located, had 140 cases as of midweek.
Bateman said he hopes the rally Saturday will not be confrontational, and he supports citizens’ right to peaceful protest.
“We’ve had hundreds of people calling wanting to support the sheriff’s office,” he said. “That’s fine — come and support them, but do it respectfully.”
The city issued a memo to Nezperce residents Wednesday discouraging participation in Saturday’s rally and urging people to keep their children at home because the city pool and park will be closed for the day.
The notice said if people decide to come out and support the sheriff’s office, they are asked to “keep a cool head as they (law enforcement officers) do not need to be refereeing multiple groups of people,” and indicated areas of downtown will be shut off to contain the protesters in front of the sheriff’s office.
The emergency declaration refers to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state and recommendations from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare against mass public gatherings in order to contain and slow the spread of the virus: “The city of Nezperce desires to take action in order to be proactive and help reduce the spread of this virus and encourages our community members and community businesses to do their part to prevent and limit the spreading of this virus.”
It authorizes all city departments to assist the sheriff’s office in managing the risks, to encourage social distancing and the wearing of masks, and to discourage participation in the event and ask residents to stay home.
The declaration will remain in effect for seven days.
Bateman said there will also be a previously scheduled memorial Saturday for a resident who recently died, which could contribute to the activity in town.
“We want to get along with everybody,” he said. “They (Bundy and his followers) have an agenda with speeches from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We hope they do it respectfully and come and go the same way. We just want to make sure everything goes good, and we really want to keep everybody healthy. That’s our main goal.”
Editor's note: The headline on this story has been updated to reference the city Nezperce.