There is a standoff in Oregon between the federal government and several hundred defenders of the Hammond family. It made a top story on NBC News (see below). Also, the protest leader, Ammon Bundy of Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, spoke in a rare interview to Fox News (see clip below). Citizens for Constitutional Freedom supporters have occupied a federal Wildlife Refuge Center in protest over mistreatment of the Hammond family by the government and for the violation of state rights.
On Monday, January 4th at 5pm, Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond, Jr., 74 and his son Steven Hammond, 46, both of Burns, Oregon, turned themselves in at Terminal Island in San Pedro, California to serve the remainder of their mandatory federal prison sentence for arson on public land. Dwight Hammond, in a low-key remark to ABC reporters, said, “I’m going to prison for 5 years for 120 acres. Seems like a bit of an overkill.”
The decade-long saga of the Harney County ranchers began in 2001 when a prescribed burn spread to 139 acres of adjacent BLM land. Later, in 2006, Steven Hammond ordered his workers to start a back-burn to prevent a nearby approaching fire—sparked by lightning—from destroying the family’s winter feed. That fire too, jumped over property lines burning about an acre of public land, and causing “less than $1,000 in damage” according to The Atlantic (Jan. 5, 2016).
The father and son ranchers were convicted of arson on federal land and accused of ulterior motives for the fires. Much of the controversy surrounding their conviction was in how the federal government used a 1994 anti-terrorism statute—titled The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act—to secure its convictions. The statute imposed a mandatory five-year sentence.
However, when U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan handed down the sentences in 2012, he deemed the five-year sentence to be “grossly disproportionate” and sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months in federal prison for the 2001 fire, and his son Steve Hammond to concurrent one-year sentences for the 2006 fire.
Oregon’s Federal Attorney, Amanda Marshall, challenged Judge Hogan’s sentence as “unlawful” and called on the Department of Justice to pursue the statutory mandated five years, resulting in a rare appeal of the Oregon judge’s order.
Last October, Dwight and Steven Hammond reappeared in the Eugene courtroom to face re-sentencing where U.S. Chief District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced them to finish the five-year terms, but left them free until after the holidays. In addition, the Hammonds have paid $400,000 to settle a lawsuit with the federal government, who has refused to renew their grazing permits.
The harsh penalties imposed on the Hammond family have sparked an organized protest led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, and his “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.” He and an estimated 20 people took over vacant buildings on Saturday at the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge, 30 miles outside of Burns, to protest the re-imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond – the first
Bundy, who has been fashioned by the media as a “militia leader,” has not threatened violence and says he and his occupying force want the liberation of thousands of square miles of federal land, which he believes should be returned to America’s ranchers, according to an ABC News Nightline report (January 4, Neal Karlinsky).
In an interview Tuesday, Harney County Sheriff David Ward urged the group to “leave our community, go home to your families.” He indicated the FBI is assembling a criminal case against the armed men.
The Hammond family does not endorse the siege that has disrupted their community. They are seeking clemency from Obama. The Oregonian reports that Rep. Greg Walden, took to the U.S. House floor Tuesday afternoon to give a spirited defense of his rural constituents and a harsh critique of the federal government.
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