On Jan. 2, 2016, a group of armed men took over a wildlife refuge in rural Oregon. They claim that the occupation is about protecting farmers and ranchers from the tyranny of the federal government, but some people accuse them of being radicals or even terrorists.
This series is an attempt to provide a better understanding of the situation by looking at some of the factors that led up to it.
Part 2: AMMON AND THE STRANGE CASE OF THE HAMMONDS
You can listen to this story in the media player above, or check out the full-text version below. If you haven’t heard Part 1 yet, you can listen to it here.
“Anytime you have a family that has been abused the way the Hammonds [have been], and you have a community that has been abused the way they’ve been abused … there becomes [sic] a time when people are ignored to the point where they’re frustrated, they don’t know what else to do. They see an injustice, but all levels of justice are ignoring that … and that is when the people have the right to take a hard stand.”
That’s Ammon Bundy speaking during a press conference at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on January 4.1 Just two days earlier, Ammon and a dozen or so armed militiamen had taken over the refuge, claiming that they were there to support and protect Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son ranching duo from Harney County, Oregon where the refuge is located.
In 2010, the Hammonds were indicted on charges of arson for setting two fires on public lands near their ranch. In court, the Hammonds argued that both of the fires were set for good reasons. The first, they claimed, was an attempt to stop the spread of an invasive weed; the second was supposedly a “backburn” — a controlled burn designed to stop wildfires from spreading.2
The court didn’t buy it. In 2012 the Hammonds were convicted of arson and sentenced to the mandatory minimum for their crime: five years in federal prison. Their lawyers appealed the sentence, however, saying that it was unconstitutional. The trial court agreed and reduced the Hammonds’ sentences, allowing them to return home after serving less than a year in jail.
But federal prosecutors appealed, arguing that the shortened sentences were too lenient. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and struck down the lower court’s decision, saying, “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.”3 Last October, the Hammonds were informed that they would have to return to prison.
One person who had been following the case closely was Ammon Bundy. Since taking part in his father Cliven’s standoff in 2014, Ammon had been looking for another opportunity to make a highly-publicized stand against the government. When the federal appeals court decided to send the Hammonds back to jail, Ammon saw his chance and headed to Harney County, along with a small band of armed militiamen that calls themselves the “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom”.
Once in Harney, Ammon began attending local rallies in support of the Hammonds, where he stoked antigovernment sentiments by railing against the BLM and its treatment of American ranchers. On Dec. 31, he posted a video to Facebook asking members of other antigovernment militias to converge on the county.
“There’s been leaders of different militia groups, different organizations that have called for a stand-down, and I am wanting to talk to the individual, to the patriot, that this is not a time to stand down. It is a time to stand up and come to Harney County,” Ammon said in the video, adding, “No matter what your leader says … you need to draw your own conclusions.”4
Two days later, Ammon took it a step further. After delivering another fiery speech at a pro-Hammond rally, he led a group of a dozen or so militiamen to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Once there, him and his men occupied the main building, claiming they were securing a safe space where the Hammonds could go to be protected from federal agents.
Unfortunately for Ammon, the Hammonds never wanted his help. Just two days into the occupation, the Hammonds turned themselves in to a California prison to resume their sentences.5 They also released a statement through their lawyer saying, “Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family.”
After the Hammonds rejected his support, Ammon had to change his tune somewhat. He now claims that the goal of the occupation is to pressure the federal government into handing over control of public lands to the county.
Make sure to come back tomorrow for Part 3: “The Myth of the West”!
2. Dwight & Steven Hammond: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know (Heavy.com)
3. Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson Resentenced to Five Years in Prison (US Department of Justice)
4. Ammon Bundy Video (Facebook)