Update: Reports say only 20 men have taken over the building. The Feds have arrived “to take control of the situation” – how reassuring. The Sheriff said that the men came to spark a movement across the country and he asked that people stay away so they can resolve the situation peacefully.
After a protest, a reportedly heavily armed militia took over a federal building in Oregon last night to prevent the arrest of a father and son who have already served a sentence for illegal and possibly accidental burns of federal property. Three of the approximately 150 militia members are sons of famous or infamous, depending on who you talk to, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Ammon Bundy, Cliven’s son, plans to use the building as a headquarters for the militia – indefinitely.
Ranchers and farmers are losing their lands and their livelihoods to the government and to frogs and prairie chickens.
The Sentinel does not advocate taking over a federal building but there is a lot more to this story than what will be described as a band of armed loons breaking the law. The government appears to be tyrannical but this seems a poor choice by the ranchers. It plays into Obama’s gun control meme though Obama doesn’t need an excuse.
It’s still not a good way to get the attention they want. However, this is a terrible story for ranchers and farmers. There appears to be a good deal of tyrannical overreach by the government in this case.
“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” the Hammonds’ lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward, according to CBS. The Hammonds – the father and son – will report to prison peacefully on Monday.
Tell us what you think.
The Bundys are the Nevada family that stood up against the Bureau of Land Management. The Bundys wouldn’t pay their grazing fees and the feds – the BLM – moved onto their property. The Bundys broke the law but the problem was the feds were armed, in full riot gear, hiding behind berms, ready to shoot the family. The other problem is the farmers and ranchers are being edged out of their property and their long-held rights – by the government.
Ammon Bundy called for sympathetic citizens to join them.
They are occupying the headquarters building at the Malhuer National Wildlife Building to keep local ranchers our of prison. The building is 50 miles outside of Burns, Oregon.
The Washington Examiner quoted Ammon Bundy as saying “This facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds.” Early Saturday, the Bundy family and 300 protesters marched through Burns before taking over the federal refuge.
The statement issued last night:
Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: “After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.”
This is the building they’ve taken over – it’s not much to look at.
The Bureau of Land Management took a tyrannical approach in handling the Hammonds to make a point.
If the government wasn’t seizing the open land in the West and calling it federal land, the following case would never have been a problem but now citizen militia are possibly getting ready to protect a father and son on a ranch in Oregon who set prescribed fires on federal land without a permit on two separate occasions since 1999 and are now facing extended jail sentences after serving their time.
The ranchers, Dwight Hammond 73, and Steven Hammond 46, were convicted of arson, which were actually prescribed fires that grew out of control. There is some question as to how accidental the fires were. Both served their sentences of 3 months for the father and one year for the son.
Prescribed fires are a normal part of ranching but when the Bureau of Land Management sets them and they go awry, nothing happens to their employees.
That isn’t what makes this story so egregious. What came next does. The federal government decided the judge who sentenced them should have put each in a federal pen for five years and has taken over the case, re-sentencing them after the fact and declaring them to be DOMESTIC TERRORISTS so they could level the harsh sentences.
They are being sent to jail for five years, ten years after the first case and five years after the second in what looks vengeful on the part of the government.
Five years is a very long time for someone 73 years old.
Oregon Live reported on the fires which were not arson in the sense that they were not deliberate and were part of normal ranching:
The Hammonds’ run-ins with the government began in 1999, when Steven Hammond started a fire that escaped onto U.S. Bureau of Land Management territory. The intent of the fire was to burn off juniper and sagebrush that hindered the growth of grass for their cattle.
BLM employees reminded Steven Hammond that although his family leased public land for grazing, he couldn’t burn it without a permit. But in September 2001, the Hammonds started another fire. This one ran off their property on Steens Mountain, consumed 139 acres of public land and took the acreage out of production for two growing seasons, according to court papers.
Then in August 2006, lightning sparked several fires near the spot where the Hammonds grew their winter feed. Steven Hammond set a back-burn to thwart the advancing flames, and it burned across about an acre of public land, according to federal court records.
The ranchers had already served shorter sentences because the federal judge originally overseeing their case said the five-year minimum requirement “would shock the conscience.”
The original judge in their case, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who is now retired, found that a five-year term would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because it’s “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here.”
Hogan did not believe the men had malicious intent to be labeled as terrorists under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, even though he sentenced them to jail for the time he did.
The men agreed to a plea deal that they would not appeal the 2012 sentence in order to bring the case to a close.
Before the re-sentencing, the Oregon Farm Bureau tried to convince the BLM to drop the arson charges against the Hammonds and replace them with charges that would not require a mandatory minimum sentence, said Dave Dillon, the organization’s executive vice president.
That didn’t work so the organization then circulated a “Save the Hammonds” petition that has been signed by more than 8,000 people.
“We did not make the progress we thought we should, so we’re taking a more public approach,” Dillon said.
Dillon said he recognized that the Hammonds faced slim chances of receiving less than five years, given the new ruling which came down from the 9th circuit.
“I find it incredible that the government would want to try these ranchers as terrorists,” said Barry Bushue, the longtime president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Now is where the rubber meets the road. Right now is when the public should absolutely be incensed. And the public, I think, should be fearful.”
After 34 years working for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Rusty Inglis is now the president of his county Farm Bureau organization and a member of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. He said both groups are working to help gain media attention for the Hammond case. The state Farm Bureau group gathered signatures online for a petition to show widespread support for the family. “Enough is enough. We are not in Nazi Germany. We are in the United States of America.”
Inglis hopes the petition, which has over 8,000 signatures, may convince the Obama administration to grant them clemency.
Just know that when you take a plea deal, the government can come back after you and say the deal is null & void.
We are releasing drug dealers in droves but not these men.
The men also lost their grazing rights for two years in addition to the harsh sentences.
The Hammonds have sold cattle because their BLM permits were revoked after Dwight and Steve were sentenced in 2012 for arson. Neighbor and fellow rancher Gary Miller said the arbitrary non-renewal of the permits sets a precedent that should have all ranchers concerned.
The Fence Post reported that during her tenure as a full time BLM employee from 1997-1999, Erin Maupin recalled other fires accidentally spilling over onto BLM land, but only the Hammonds have been charged, arrested and sentenced, she said. Ranchers might be burning invasive species or maybe weeds in the ditch. “They would call and the BLM would go and help put it out and it was not big deal.”
On the flip side, Maupin remembers numerous times that BLM-lit fires jumped to private land. Neighbors lost significant numbers of cattle in more than one BLM fire that escaped intended containment lines and quickly swallowed up large amounts of private land. To her knowledge, no ranchers have been compensated for lost livestock or other loss of property such as fences.
The fires set by the Hammonds, which were started on their lands, benefitted the land in the end.
Another issue which many will agree with is that it is wholly inappropriate for the federal government to own 53.1% of open Oregon land. The Constitution is clear on the issue of government ownership of land.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 states that the government can own land, by “Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress” to use as seats of government, for “Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.”
That’s not what is happening of course. They are taking land to control using various excuses and to make money off it or let it sit and rot. In any case, they take it off the tax rolls.
The government owns 84.5% of Nevada, 69.1% of Alaska, 57.5% of Utah, 50.2% of Idaho. You can look at the chart to see where the government is going with this.
The government, however, now owns the land and these men broke the law, but how far should the government go before someone tells them to stop?
The government is here to help and the BLM is a monolithic organization of heartless bureaucrats.
The Harney Basin, where the Hammond ranch is established, was settled in the 1870’s by multiple ranchers.
The ranchers developed a state of the art irrigated system to water the meadows, and it soon became a favorite stopping place for migrating birds on their annual trek north.
In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt created an “Indian reservation” around the Malheur, Mud & Harney Lakes and declared it “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds”. Later this “Indian reservation” (without Indians) became the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1964 the Hammonds purchased their ranch in the Harney Basin. The purchase included approximately 6000 acres of private property, 4 grazing rights on public land, a small ranch house and 3 water rights..
By the 1970’s nearly all the ranches adjacent to the Blitzen Valley were purchased by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and added to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge covers over 187,000 acres and stretches over 45 miles long and 37 miles wide. The expansion of the refuge grew and surrounds the Hammond’s ranch. Being approached many times by the FWS, the Hammonds refused to sell. Other ranchers also choose not to sell.
During the 1970’s the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), took a different approach to get the ranchers to sell.
Ranchers were told that, “grazing was detrimental to wildlife and must be reduced” – 32 out of 53 permits were revoked and many ranchers were forced to leave. Grazing fees were raised significantly for those who were allowed to remain. Refuge personnel took over the irrigation system claiming it as their own.
By 1980 a conflict was well on its way over water allocations on the adjacent privately owned Silvies Plain. The FWS wanted to acquire the ranch lands on the Silvies Plain to add to their already vast holdings.
Refuge personnel intentionally diverted the water to bypassing the vast meadowlands, directing the water into the rising Malheur Lakes.
Within a few short years the surface area of the lakes doubled. Thirty-one ranches on the Silvies plains were flooded.
Homes, corrals, barns and grazing land were washed a way and destroyed. The ranchers that once fought to keep the FWS from taking their land, now broke and destroyed, begged the FWS to acquire their useless ranches.
In 1989 the waters began to recede and now the once thriving privately owned Silvies pains are a proud part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the FWS.
By the 1990’s the Hammonds were one of the very few ranchers that still owned private property adjacent to the refuge. Susie Hammond in an effort began compiling fact about the refuge. Susie Hammond found a study conducted by the FWS in 1975 which showed that the “no use” policies of the FWS on the refuge were actually causing the wildlife to leave the refuge and move to private property.
In the early 1990’s the Hammonds filed on a livestock water source and obtained a deed for the water right from the State of Oregon. The BLM challenged it in court and lost.
In August 1994 the BLM & FWS illegally began building a fence around the Hammonds water source. Owning the water rights – their cattle relied on that water source daily – the Hammonds tried to stop the building of the fence. The Hammonds were arrested.
The feds shortly began restricting the Hammonds from using upper pieces of their private property. In order to get to the upper part of the Hammond’s ranch they Hammonds now had to go on a road that went through the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge.
The Hammonds were forced to either build and maintain miles of fences or be restricted from the use of their private property. Cutting their ranch in almost half, they could not afford to fence the land, so the cattle were removed.
In the early fall of 2001, Steven Hammond called the fire department, informing them that he was going to be performing a routine prescribed burn on their ranch. Later that day he started a prescribed fire on their private property. The fire went onto public land and burned 127 acres of grass. The Hammonds put the fire out themselves.
In 2006 a massive lightning storm started multiple fires that joined together inflaming the countryside. To prevent the fire from destroying their winter range and possibly their home, Steven Hammond (Son) started a backfire on their private property. The backfire was successful in putting out the lightning fires that had covered thousands of acres within a short period of time. The backfire saved much of the range and vegetation needed to feed the cattle through the winter.
A police report was filed by federal agents.
In 2011, 5 years after the police report was taken, the U.S. Attorney Office accused Dwight and Steven Hammond of completely different charges, they accused them of being “Terrorist” under the Federal Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
In September 2006, Dwight & Susan Hammond’s home was raided. The agents informed the Hammonds that they were looking for evidence that would connect them to the fires.
Accusations of evidence that would absolve the Hammonds not being allowed into the trial and a sketchy witness hunted down led to the guilty verdict. The judge was accused of tampering with the jury. They were found guilty and served their terms.
The Hammonds have paid $200,000 of a $400,000 fine and if they don’t pay it this year, they will lose their ranch.
The feds have now stepped in to sentence them to lengthier sentences.