Trump pardons OR ranchers who set fires on federal land

Geraldine Edwards
July 11, 2018

The move by Trump raised concerns that others would be encouraged to actively oppose federal control of public land.

President Donald Trump's pardon of two OR ranchers convicted of arson for starting grass fires is thought by some to signify a changed federal approach to industries reliant on public lands. Hammond was convicted of arson on federal lands.

The pardons fit into a trend for Trump, who has taken to using his clemency powers in cases that have drawn attention in conservative media. "The Hammonds are child abusers and anti-government zealots who endangered lives when they committed arson to cover up illegally slaughtering a herd of deer".

The armed occupiers changed the refuge's name to the Harney County Resource Center, reflecting their belief that the federal government has only a very limited right to own property within a state's borders.

Ammon Bundy and his father Cliven also orchestrated a 2014 standoff in Nevada between scores of armed ranchers and their supporters and law enforcement agents over cattle grazing rights.

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"We went up there to prevent the atrocity from happening to begin with, and if people would have listened to us, the Hammonds wouldn't have to have gone through this suffering", Bundy said in a telephone interview.

"I think the president recognized they're good and decent men and got a raw deal on the sentencing", said Nathan Jackson, a rancher and president of OCA. It was unclear when they would be released.

The Hammond family, well-known in eastern OR, had been embroiled for years in a legal dispute over several fires that damaged federal property.

Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands. Although prosecuted under a post-Oklahoma City federal anti-terrorism law that carried a minimum five-year sentence, sentencing Judge Michael Hogan exercised judicial discretion and refused to impose the mandated minimum.

The elder Hammond has served nearly three years of his sentence, while his son has been incarcerated for four years. However, in October 2015, a federal appeals court ordered them to be resentenced to the mandatory minimum.

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In its statement announcing the pardon, the White House said, "The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West".

The statement added: "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency".

But after prosecutors won an appeal, the Hammonds were resentenced to serve the mandatory minimum, the AP said, which sparked a protest from Ammon Bundy and many others - as well as an occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern OR from January 2 to February 11, 2016.

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 unsafe and far-reaching precedent for the kind of paramilitary intimidation and right-wing violence that underpins their movement".

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