Members of the Bundy Ranch, along with other crazy West Coast militia members, have taken over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, calling it the headquarters of the “tyranny that has been placed upon” Dwight Hammond, Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond. According to The Oregonian, the Hammonds must report to prison on Monday after being convicted for arson. They’re guilty of setting two fires: One in 2001, apparently to burn out invasive juniper but which burned more than 130 acres of federal land, and another in 2006, as a backburn to combat a wildfire, which also spread to federal land.
Ranchers and western militias have been extremely paranoid about the federal government regarding what they see as unlawful land grabs and unfair targeting and punishment of ranchers. Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in 2014 is a prime example of this, and it’s three of Bundy’s sons who are involved in the Hammond case now.
Federal authorities say both fires for which the Hammonds were convicted were started outside of proper protocol, and one was started to cover up illegal deer hunting, which is why they were indicted on charges of arson. They were sentenced to prison under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which is what has militia members up in arms. While they weren’t called terrorists, these people interpreted that to mean that the Hammonds were tried, convicted and sentenced as terrorists.
In fact, it was nothing of the sort. The AEDPA made significant changes to habeas corpus, making it so that defendants in certain cases can only appeal their convictions in one petition, and only allowing such appeals to succeed when the convictions were “contrary to clearly established federal law,” including the Constitution, or “an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence” had been made on the part of the court.
Basically, it made it harder for death row inmates to tie up the court systems with endless appeals. It also defined and clarified certain types of crimes.
The Hammonds were prosecuted under the AEDPA because the fires they started destroyed federal property, which is a felony under that act. However, offenders don’t have to be terrorists, the Hammonds weren’t tried as terrorists, and they weren’t convicted as terrorists. They were originally sentenced to one year and one day in prison, but prosecutors appealed because the AEDPA has a five-year minimum sentence standard. Hence the Hammonds’ return to prison.
The people who make up these groups, however, have their own interpretation of the law, and they believe this is a gross overreach of federal authority.
The Bundy sons and the militia members intend to occupy the wildlife refuge’s headquarters for years if it’s necessary. Nearly 300 members marched through the town of Burns, where HQ is located, to protest the Hammonds’ prosecution. Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan, said that they aren’t looking to hurt anyone, but they haven’t ruled out violence if police try to remove them.
Because that’s totally the way to deal with law enforcement. These guys sound like the sovereign citizens who believe that they only have to obey the laws they recognize.
Ammon has called on “patriots” to support them in their quest by reporting to the refuge…with their weapons. Some militia leaders, however, are denouncing the occupation, which the really hard-core “patriots” are leading. They’ve made what RT calls “a de facto self-rule zone that is independent of federal authorities.”
They’re doing this without much participation from the community, too. The Oregonian reports that Ammon said:
We went to the local communities and presented it many times and to many different people. They were not strong enough to make the stand. So many individuals across the United States and in Oregon are making this stand. We hope they will grab onto this and realize that it’s been happening.
The Oregonian also reports that the Hammonds themselves want no part of this, oddly enough. They merely issued a statement just before Christmas that read:
Our family appreciates the support of our local community. We have lived here, raised our families here, invested our time here, and grown our ranching business here because of the shared values of community, land stewardship, and family. We hope to see those values continue for many generations to come.
So here we have another bizarre standoff between ranchers and federal authorities, based on a misunderstanding of various laws and an idea that freedom means doing what you want when you want. The Hammonds will serve their time, and who knows how this occupation will go. The Bundys have proven that they’re nuts before. This could just be further proof of that.
Featured image via screen capture