You should have sympathy for the Hammond family.
You should have sympathy for Steven and Dwight Hammond because they are, by all accounts, decent and generous community members attempting to survive as ranchers in the face of a massive federal bureaucracy violating their rights. Here’s everything you need to know about the Hammond family and why they’re now at the center of a national firestorm.
The Federal Government Has Been Trying To Push The Hammonds Off Their Land. The federal government owns huge swaths of land in the western United States via the Bureau of Land Management, ranging from 84.5 percent of all territory in Nevada to 53.1 percent of all territory in Oregon. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service has designs on the land owned by the Hammond family, and to that end, they bought up all the land surrounding the Hammonds, and then apparently began choking out the Hammonds’ access to water and grazing rights. Suffice it to say that in plea arrangements regarding arson charges (to be discussed shortly) the Hammonds agreed to give the BLM first right of refusal on a sale of their property. In a plea agreement.
Their “Arson” Was An Attempt to Protect Their Land Use. In 2001, the Hammonds initiated a burn on their property – the goal of which, according to the Hammonds, was to kill weeds that suck up water. The fire expanded outside their property and burned 138 acres of federal land. The Hammonds put out the fire themselves; no federal firefighters were used. According to the Hammonds, they called BLM beforehand for permission. In 2006, the Hammonds initiated a backfire in order to prevent their property from being burned by lightning. One acre of federal land was apparently burned. The federal government charged the father-and-son duo under anti-terrorism laws, calling for a five-year mandatory minimum federal sentence.
The Hammonds Are Good Members Of Their Community. The judge, in originally sentencing Steven and Dwight Hammond, stated, “With regard to character letters and that sort of thing, they were tremendous. These are people who have been a salt in their community and liked, and I appreciate that…I am not going to apply the mandatory minimum and because, to me, to do so under the Eighth Amendment would result in a sentence which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here. And with regard to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, this sort of conduct could not have been conduct intended under that statute.”
The Feds Want All Ranchers On Notice That They Rule The Roost. It’s not just the Hammonds. The Oregon Farm Bureau protested the Hammonds’ convictions, stating:
This prosecution will have a chilling effect across the West among ranchers and others who rely on federal allotments and permits. It will harm the positive relationship many ranchers and organizations have worked to forge with the bureau, and the hard work that has been done on the range. It also is hypocritical given BLM’s own harm to the range, which goes without consequence. It is unjust. OFB worked quietly behind the scenes with BLM through the spring and summer. That diligent diplomatic effort was fruitless.
The Hammonds Are Not Interested In Violence. Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a similar dispute with the BLM in 2014, headed up to Oregon with armed citizens to take over an empty facility at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They left a peaceful protest in order to do so. “The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds,” Ammon Bundy said. “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely.” The Hammond family says they don’t have anything to do with the Bundy group’s activities. They may want clemency from President Obama, but they’ll be unlikely to obtain it.
The media have chosen to focus on the Bundy move because it’s more spectacular in terms of the headlines. But the Hammonds’ story is a pure example of what an insanely powerful, unelected bureaucracy can achieve when it goes unchecked. And there’s no question that as the government expands, conflagrations like the Hammonds/Bundys will become more and more common.