Was Burns, Oregon the Right Place and the Right Time to Challenge the Federal Government’s Ownership of Public Lands and their Land-Use Policies in the West ?on Tuesday, January 5, 2016
No Property Rights… No Freedom… No Future!
The Hammonds: A Quintessential American Family
The Spirit that Built the American West
Hundreds Protest their Extra Jail Time
Others Angry as the Government tries to Break their Will
Dateline: Burns, Oregon
Normally peaceful Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns Oregon became the scene of a heated standoff between ranchers and property rights advocates on the one hand, and federal law enforcement officials and the Bureau of Land Management on the other hand. At the center of the conflict is a seventy-three year old Oregon Rancher named Dwight Hammond and his forty-six year old son Steven who were recently re-sentenced in what can only be described as double jeopardy to serve five more years in a Federal Penitentiary on trumped up charges of arson.
In 2001 Dwight and Steven Hammond of Burns, Oregon were doing just what many grass seed farmers, ranchers, and cattlemen throughout the western United States do. They were burning their grass field in the fall in order to control invasive and undesirable weeds like Canada thistle and tansy ragwort which is poisonous to cattle as well as the local juniper which thrives in eastern Oregon, but diverts a lot of ground water away from the production of grass hay. According to the Hammonds their fire got out of control and spread to adjacent federal land which they were leasing from the BLM. It burned a total of about 130 acres of public grass land. There was nothing on the land but grass so the damage caused by the fire was insignificant. In fact it was actually beneficial.
The practice of starting grass fires in order to control invasive or noxious weeds ensures the health and safety of grazing animals. The practice of burning off water sucking plants like Juniper helps to increase the average yield per acre of grass which the cattle feed on. It is the normal, standard method of managing rangeland in all western states. There is nothing unusual about it… On top of this, lighting small grass fires helps to lessen the damage caused by large scale wildfires. What is unusual about this is the way that federal prosecutors working for the Obama Administration decided to single out the Hammonds for a campaign of intimidation and punishment. The Hammonds own a six thousand acre ranch located about 50 miles south of Burns, Oregon. Their ranch is right in the middle of the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. Not only does the government want that land, but it is the last privately held land in the entire Wilderness Area. They run cows and their land is in what is scheduled to be a cow free zone.
It is unusual that the DOJ prosecuted the Hammonds the first time on federal arson charges because it was just an unfortunate accident that their controlled burn spread onto adjacent land. When their case was reopened and they were re-sentenced to additional time after being out of jail for two years this was way more than just unusual.. This was a violation of the Fifth Amendment which states that no person can be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy. Controlled fires occasionally get out of control even when the government starts one, but no ever gets prosecuted… not once and certainly not twice… no one except the Hammonds.
In 2012 Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of arson for a 2001 incident after a two week long jury trial in Pendleton, Oregon. Based upon some pretty outrageous testimony Steven Hammond was also convicted of a separate incident in 2006. Both of these incidents were accidents which resulted in no injuries and no property damage. The only thing that burned was the grass and there was no reason to put the Hammonds in jail for either of these incidents… but they served their time and they were released. In addition to that they were ordered to pay four hundred thousand dollars in fines. Dwight Hammond spent three months in jail and his son served one year for two counts of arson in a Federal Penitentiary. They were both released and that should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn’t…
Steven Hammond’s additional crime was that he started a back burn in 2006 when a nearby wild fire was threatening to destroy his family’s ranch house and their winter grass for their cows. The government claims that he set those back fires illegally without a permit during a period when all burning was prohibited. The only ones who were authorized to set back fires at that time were the firefighters who were battling the wild fire that was threatening their house, but the government claimed that Steven Hammond set the back fires not to protect his house but rather to cover up the fact that he had shot three deer out of season.
The charge of poaching is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even deserve the respect of an answer. You don’t start a fire to cover up the fact that you just harvested a deer out of season. You put the meat in the freezer and you bury the bones in the ground… on your ranch. I can tell you this much… If there was a wildfire threatening my house I wouldn’t be out hunting deer, and secondly I wouldn’t waste any time asking for the government’s permission to protect my house. I would just do it and so would anyone else in their right mind.
After the Hammonds served their sentences for arson they were released from jail, but then something else very unusual happened. Two years after their release Federal prosecutors working for the Obama Administration decided to re-open their case claiming that they hadn’t served enough time. They found some judge willing to over rule the trial judge and they were both re-sentenced to five more years behind bars under an anti terrorist act. Under the 5th Amendment that amounts to double jeopardy. The 5th Amendment states that, “no one shall be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
Dwight Hammond is 73 years old… The additional jail sentence means that he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. He is an old man who doesn’t pose the slightest threat to anybody. So why is the government doing this to him?
Click the map of the Wilderness Area to enlarge it. The Hammond ranch is located just east of Frenchglen and south of the little town of Diamond. The Wilderness area is designated in gold.. The remaining private land is designated in white… The entire area is outlined by a red line which means that it is rich in uranium ore. It is also outlined by a green dotted line which means that it is rich in gold.. That is not a coincidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Papagni Jr., AnneMarie Sgarlata and Kelly Zusman are the prosecutors who were in charge of re-opening the Hammond case. What is so unusual is the way that the government has gone after the Hammonds not once, but twice and violated their constitutional rights in order to do it. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced, and they served their time. Then they were brought back to court and sentenced a second time. In a letter from the Department of Justice dated October 7, 2015 the government states that, “These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law …” In other words the government is determined to make an example out of the Hammonds, but why? Look at the map again. This part of Oregon isn’t just a place to watch birds.. It has the potential to be something much different.
Let’s just assume for the moment that all of the misfortune that is happening to the Hammond Family is happening because they own the last private land in the Wilderness Area. The Government is trying to drive them out because they want to incorporate their six thousand acres into the wilderness area, and they are doing it just because they can. There is still no reason that either of the Hammonds should have had to spent a single day in jail nor surrender themselves again and spend one more day more less five more years in jail. Federal prosecutors all over America are planning on releasing thousands of real criminals who are in jail on real drug charges thanks to Hussein Obama’s criminal justice reforms, but I guess a couple of white ranchers don’t qualify for leniency in the Obama Justice Department since they didn’t rape anyone or steal anything while high on meth, or crack cocaine.
Now if you’ll excuse my pun I would like to tell you what really burns me up about the Federal arson charges against Dwight and Steven Hammond of Burns, Oregon. Recently I drove from Eugene to Bend and back again and I had to cross over the top of the Cascade Mountains… I hadn’t been there in nearly twenty years. What I saw left me speechless. The entire top of the mountain range has been burned to a crisp for miles around in all directions . Everywhere you look there is complete and utter destruction. There isn’t a tree alive as far as the eye can see. 100,000 acres were totally destroyed and all the valuable timber completely wasted. I want to know which government official working for the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management spent a single day in jail or paid a single penny in fines or lost their job for the damage that occurred under their watch. The B and B Complex Fires left a huge swath of the Cascade Mountains lifeless for generations, but Dwight and Steven Hammond have been compelled to serve time not just once but twice and forced to pay $400,000 dollars in fines and legal fees for an accidental fire that caused no property damage and burned just a mere 130 acres of grass.
Based on an article that appeared in the Tri-State Livestock News in October 2015 it is clear that the Hammond Ranch is standing in the way of certain things that the federal government wants to do in Harney County. Their ranch is the last private land within a 100,000 acre “cow free zone” which is part of the even bigger 170,000 acre Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. This wilderness area was created as a compromise between Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and President Bill Clinton under the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act. It was an attempt to stave off his plan to turn the entire mountain into a National Park.“The Hammonds are the last holdouts in the area”, said Erin Maupin a former government official who used to work for the BLM. (see October 2015 article from Tri-State Livestock News at the end of this story found under Corroborating Source Material)
So then who is the real villain in the story of the Hammond family of Harney County. It certainly isn’t the Hammonds. They are just trying to live their lives the way they have always lived their lives… like free men and women in the wide open spaces of Oregon’s high desert country. The real villains are the three Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Frank Papagni Jr., AnneMarie Sgarlata, and Kelly Zusman of Portland Oregon who have been trying to make a name for themselves over at the Justice Department and the new U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, Billy Williams who was recently appointed by Loretta Lynch who was recently appointed herself by Barack Obama to replace the outgoing Eric Holder.
You see it always goes back to that man in the White House who shouldn’t even be in the White House because he is not a Natural Born American Citizen. Because his father was a Kenyan Hussein Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be President. He deserves to be impeached a lot more than the last Democrat President did. The only thing keeping him from being impeached is the color of his skin and the scarcity of Republicans in Congress with enough backbone to do the right thing. The four U.S. Attorneys who re-opened the Hammond case are just trying to impress their boss, keep their jobs, and move up in the pecking order at the Department of Injustice. Mr. Williams was just following orders from his boss who was just following orders from her boss when they decided to re-open the Hammond case and overturn the original sentences of the trial court judge. The corruption starts right at the top with Barack Obama.
The Assistant U.S. Attorneys who requested the extra jail time and the Federal Judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who revoked the trial court judge’s sentences and imposed additional time under the Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 should all lose their jobs. They are just as wrong as a Circuit Judge in Jackson County Oregon who sentenced a man to prison for collecting rain water without a permit.
It seems like our elected and appointed officials are so satiated with power that they have lost their sense of proportionality. Maybe they have lost their minds as well. When the plight of the Hammonds became publicized the Bundy family of Nevada which previously had their own run in with the BLM over grazing rights decided to come to their rescue. They came to Oregon to focus media attention on the Hammond’s plight. They recorded several interviews on local media and social media, and they obtained a written letter in defense of the Hammonds by an Alaskan common law judge. Then they did something that many people in Harney County including the Hammonds didn’t feel good about.
Protestors from around the country led by Ammon Bundy decided to occupy a Federal building and basically dare the Feds to remove them. While most Americans know that there is something drastically wrong with our Federal Government, most of us are hoping to do it peacefully through the political process. We know that when you put your hand in a wasp nest you are the one who gets stung, not the wasps. There is an election coming up in less than a year and we hope to change things in that election.
Burns, Oregon may not have been the right place and the right time to draw a line in the sand. It is not the Alamo and we are not fighting a foreign enemy. We are fighting our own government and while there is still a peaceful way to address our grievances we should endeavor to do so peacefully. I believe that is what our Founding Fathers would advise…
There is nothing wrong with trying to get the Hammond’s out of jail. There is nothing wrong with the Bundy Family’s genuine willingness to help them, but their tactic of occupying a Federal building drew mixed feelings. Perhaps we need to pray for more wisdom to understand how to fight this insidious enemy we are up against. We also need to pray for the protestors led by Ammon Bundy that they remain safe… The are courageous men and women who are standing up for all Americans against the excessive and unconstitutional overreaches of the Federal Government. We are all very lucky that Ammon Bundy is brave enough to put his neck on the line for us. The residents of Harney County should feel a deep debt of gratitude to him. I’m not sure the battle for our rights is going to be won or lost out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter. It is going to be won or lost in the halls of Congress and in the White House and at the ballot box in 2016. So let’s do it with the ballot box, not the bullet box.
Corroborating Source Material