Trump pardons ranchers whose arrests led to armed occupation of wildlife refuge

Wednesday, 11 Jul, 2018

The federal sentencing of Dwight and Steven Hammond for arson sparked the anti-government occupation. The pair had also coughed up $400,000 to settle a civil suit with the feds.

The nonprofit would not have objected to Trump simply commuting the Hammonds' sentences and setting them free, Weiss said.

"Pardoning the Hammonds sends a risky message to America's park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers", Rokala said in a statement. A judge, however, initially gave Dwight Hammond three months and his son Steven Hammond a year and a day behind bars. The relatively short sentences came despite mandatory minimum sentences of five years.

"The [Obama] administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison".

In a statement deriding the former administration's handling of the case, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited how a judge ruled that the Hammond's faced a disproportionate sentence given their crimes. "I hope that Dwight and Steven will soon be able to continue their work on the Hammond Ranch".

The perceived unjust sentence for the Hammonds inspired Ammon Bundy to lead an armed standoff in early 2016, when a group of armed men broke into the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

The Bundys and seven other members of the right-wing militia that took part in the armed occupation were acquitted of all charges in October of 2016, a decision that set what one critic called "a risky and far-reaching precedent for the kind of paramilitary intimidation and right-wing violence that underpins their movement". The two OR ranchers were imprisoned in 2012 for arson, in a fire that encroached on Federal lands, and the incident is commonly viewed as a precursor to the Bundy family's infamous stands against the government.

The pardons were welcomed by the Oregon Farm Bureau, which describes itself as "a grassroots, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization". While nobody can restore what they've lost to this prosecutorial overreach and bureaucratic vendetta, we are happy that this bad chapter will be coming to a close soon.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said, "I applaud President Trump for thoroughly reviewing the facts of this case, rightly determining the Hammonds were treated unfairly, and taking action to correct this injustice".

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity: "The Hammonds are risky people with a history of arson, illegal grazing and threatening federal officials".

"The seeds of the current situation were sown in 2001 and 2006".

The Hammonds said they were using standard brush-control and land-management techniques, but the government said in at least one instance they were trying to hide evidence of their slaughtering a herd of deer.

In her statement, Sanders characterized the arson as "a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land".