Two central Oregon ranchers, father and son, were convicted of arson on public land in 2012 in an attempt to cover up an illegal deer slaughter on federal land in 2001. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan Dwight ruled that Hammond, 73, spend three months in prison, and his son, 46-year-old Stephen, be incarcerated for a year. Under Amanda Marshall, then U.S. attorney for Oregon, a successful government appeal under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 changed the minimum sentence to five years, and the Hammonds are due to report back to prison tomorrow. At the trial, witnesses, including a relative of Hammonds, had testified that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.” The government spent $600,000 fighting the fires.
Enter heavily armed gun-toting men this past November, including at three sons of Cliven Bundy, who had gathered around the Nevada rancher and aimed their guns at federal officials last year because they thought that Bundy shouldn’t have to pay his debt to the U.S. government for grazing his cattle on public land. After parading around the small town of Burns, they took over the federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, created 30 miles southeast of Burns by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 from unclaimed government lands. The occupiers declare that they will occupy the facility for “years” and are calling on “patriots” to join them and bring their guns. [Refuge watch tower above]
The men’t goal is not to protect the Hammonds but force the federal government to give the land to local ranchers, miners, and loggers. The land in question was once part of a Northern Paiute reservation established by President Ulysses S. Grant, but whites used violence to force the Paiutes off the reservation in the late 19th century.
Closed for the holiday weekend, the building is now being monitored by federal officials, and Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward warned people to avoid the area. The Bundys claimed that about 150 people were in the building, but witnesses report between 12 and 15 are there. Ammon Bundy (right) said, “We are not hurting anybody or damaging any property. We would expect that they understand that we have given them no reason to use lethal force upon us or any other force.” Cliven Bundy said, “If the Hammonds wouldn’t stand …, the people had to do something.”
Several GOP presidential candidates support the Bundys’ actions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) calls for private ownership of federal land, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) agrees with Paul and blames President Obama for his “assault” on “liberty.” Ben Carson calls the Bundy group “pretty outstanding people” before he rambles on into “freedom.” Donald Trump said, “I like him, I like his spirit, his spunk and the people that are so loyal…I respect him.” Mike Huckabee is another strong Bundy supporter.
The Hammonds are willing to go back to prison, and many Burns’ residents, who have posted signs with “Militia go home,” are unhappy with the out-of-towners wandering the town while openly carrying guns. Rancher Melodi Molp said that the Bundys “are way more aggressive than what we want to do,” and Candy Tiller said, “I’m worried that there’s a trigger-happy idiot out there.” She added, “This is crazy. This does not fit. These people need to go away.” Chris Briels, Burns fire chief for 24 years, said that the militia “seems like a bunch of people ready to shoot. I don’t want that in my county.” Rancher Gary Marshall wants the Bundys to let the community “think and decide for ourselves” and said that 50 percent of the employed people in the county of about 7,000 people work for the government. “A lot of the people who work at the BLM are of families of the community,” said Marshall. “It’s not in any way a ‘them against us’ kind of a scenario here.”
Federal employees report they have been followed around town and to their homes. Three men, one of them with a gun strapped to his hip, and a woman went up to the county sheriff’s parents at an American Legion yard sale. When they criticized the sheriff, his 74-year-old mother, accompanied by the sheriff’s 78-year-old father, said that she didn’t need their protection from the government. Later the men went to the sheriff to say that she had threatened them.
After Sheriff Ward told “militia” organizers that he would not give sanctuary to the Hammonds, he received death threats from people in other states who called him an “enemy of the people.” He said, “What we’ve been threatened with here is civil unrest and the insinuations of armed rebellion.” According to Ward, the groups has come to town under false pretenses: instead of supporting local ranchers, they want to overthrow the government.
Mainstream media expresses little concern about a group of armed men taking over a federal building, depicting the event as a “peaceful protest.” Fox’s early report overlooked the danger of men in camo outfits with long guns who are frightening Harney County’s residents. Ryan Bundy tweeted that the self-appointed “militia” are “willing to kill and be killed if necessary.” Ammon Bundy said, “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.” One member of the group, Jon Ritzheimer, posted a goodbye video to his family on YouTube today and said “I want to die a free man.” For safety purposes, Harney County schools will be closed this week.
ABC didn’t bother to investigate the explosive situation: the network merely copied Fox news with the headline, “Peaceful Protest Followed by Oregon Wildlife Refuge Action.” NBC’s headline calls the armed men “Rancher’s Rights Protesters.”
The state’s largest newspaper, The Oregonian, used its conservative bent to whitewash past events concerning the Hammonds although a few facts can be cleaned from this article.
- In 1994, Dwight Hammond was arrested, but not prosecuted, in his dispute regarding water access with the refuge managers when he tried to stop a fence to keep out his cattle.
- In 1999, Steven Hammond fired shots at hunters on federal land but claimed he was shooting at rabbits. He objected to “authorized commercial hunting of wildlife that temporarily wandered onto barren public land from private land lush with forage” but was convicted of interfering with use of public land.
- In 2001 the Hammonds claimed that they lit the 2001 fire to take out invasive juniper and didn’t see any reason to put the fire out when it reached public land. They were convicted of arson because of poaching.
- In 2006, the Hammonds list another fire to keep a lightning-caused fire from burning only the Hammonds’ ranch in spite of a countywide burn ban and endangering firefighters camped nearby.
- In 2007, the Hammonds were investigated for child abuse. Stephen Hammond, upset because a 16-year-old boy living with them carved initials in his chest with a paperclip, used coarse sand paper to sand them off. Hammond’s mother, Susan told the teen to clean up and “not to have a pity party.” Her husband, Dwight, said it was “decided by the family” to sand off the initials.
According to a new poll, conservative whites are angrier than the rest of the population in the United States because they feel more oppressed than any other group, often from their feelings about having a black president. Three-fourths of Republicans get angry every day about current events, and at least one-third of white people—over three-fourths of the people in the United States—own guns. Exploited by conservative politicians and media, these expressions of fear become increasingly toxic, resulting in the acquisition of increasing gun ownership by people who plan to take over the government. Combining this anger with guns results in increased gun violence.
Meet the Press host Chuck Todd did his usual avoidance of conservative views regarding the latest “militia” standoff. He didn’t asked interview guest Paul anything about the situation, and he nodded sagely while hard-right panelists Washington Post columnists Jennifer Rubin and Sara Fagen, the latter a former political director for George W. Bush’s administration, blamed a weak president and bad foreign policy for all the anger.
Tonight, CBS Evening News segment showed a benign view of the ranchers who determined that they could take public land by force through arson and other acts of violence, one man who abused a teenager, and a group of heavily armed men who charmingly said that they meant no harm as long as the law gave them whatever they wanted. The “militia” wants publicity, and they’re getting plenty of it, much of it positive Angry armed white men are determined to overthrow the government, undermine the courts, and receive positive media attention for their actions, and the media media is obliging them–because they are white.