Was Burns, Oregon the Right Place and the Right Time to Challenge the Federal Government’s Ownership of Public Lands and its Land-Use Policies in the West ?on Tuesday, January 5, 2016
The Hammond Family
No Property Rights! No Freedom! No Future!
The Story of the Quintessential American Family
and the Spirit that Built the American West,
and How the Government is Trying to Break that Spirit.
Many Protest Decision to send Hammonds back to Jail
By Scott Rohter
Dateline: January, 2016 – 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 when they occur. What is unusual about the Hammonds is the way that federal prosecutors working in the Obama Administration decided to single them out for a campaign of intimidation and punishment. The Hammonds own six thousand acres located about 50 miles south of Burns, Oregon. Their ranch is right in the middle of what the government calls the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. Not only does the government want their land, but it is some of the last privately held land in the entire Wilderness Area. The Hammonds have been running cows on their land for many years in an area which the Federal Government has now designated as a “cow free” zone.
It was very unusual that the Department of Justice decided to prosecute the Hammonds on federal arson charges since it was just not a deliberate action but rather an unfortunate accident that the controlled burn they started got out of control and spread to adjacent land they lease from the government. When their criminal case was reopened two years after they were released from jail and they were re-sentenced to serve additional time behind bars this was way more than just unusual.. It was a violation of the Fifth Amendment which states that no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy.” Controlled grass fires occasionally get out of control. It even happens when the government starts them, but no one ever gets prosecuted for it… that is not until the Hammonds. They were not just criminally prosecuted for it once. They were punished for it twice… That should send a chill up and down your spine if you actually have one.
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 questionable testimony from a minor with emotional problems Steven Hammond was also convicted of a separate incident in 2006. Both of these incidents were unintentional accidents which resulted in no property damage and no injuries to anyone. The only thing that burned was the grass which the Hammonds had grazing rights to so there was no reason to put them in jail for either incident, but that didn’t matter. To jail they went and they served their time and after that they were released. However in addition to their jail sentences they were also ordered by the court to pay four hundred thousand dollars in fines. Dwight Hammond spent three months in jail and his son Steven served one year on two counts of arson, both in a Federal Penitentiary. They were both released and that should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn’t…
The additional crime for which Steven Hammond had to serve a longer sentence than his father was over a controlled back burn which he started in 2006 when when a nearby wild fire was threatening to destroy the family’s house as well as their winter grass for their herd. The government claimed that he set those fires without a permit when all such burning was prohibited because of the wild fire. The only people who were authorized to set back fires at the time were the firefighters who were battling the blaze that was threatening the Hammond house. The government claimed that Steven didn’t set the back fires to protect his house but rather to cover up the fact that he had shot three deer without a tag and out of season.
The accusation 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 shot a deer out of season. If you wanted to cover up your crime you would put the meat in the freezer and bury the rest of the evidence in the ground… and when you have 6000 acres its not too hard to find a place to dispose of the evidence, but that’s not what the government claimed. They claimed Steven started a fire to cover up the fat that he had shot the deer out of season. I can tell you this much… If there was a wildfire threatening my house and I knew that the government didn’t want me living in it… I wouldn’t be out hunting deer. I would be protecting my house any way that I could and I wouldn’t bother asking the government’s permission in order to do it. 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 unusual happened. Two years later Federal prosecutors working in the Obama Administration decided to re-open their case claiming that they hadn’t served enough time and they found some judge who was willing to over rule the original trial judge and re-sentence them to five more years behind bars under a seldom used clause in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. According to the 5th Amendment that amounts to double jeopardy.
Dwight Hammond is 73 years old… His 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 a threat to anybody. So why is the government doing this to him?
This is a map of the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. Hover over it and click it to enlarge the map. The Hammond ranch is located just east of Frenchglen and south of the little town of Diamond. The entire Wilderness area is designated in yellow. All the private land is designated in white… The whole area is outlined by a red line which means that it is rich in natural resources, particularly gold and uranium. The green dotted line means that it contains gold. This is not just 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 unusual is the way that the government has gone after the Hammonds not once, but twice even violating their constitutional rights against double jeopardy to do so. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced, and they served their time. Then two years later they were brought back into a courtroom and re-sentenced for 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 this 73 year old man and his son, but why? Look at the map . This part of southeastern Oregon is not just a place to watch birds.. It has vast natural resources and it has the potential to produce vast amounts of wealth for anyone who owns it. The government wants to own it… all of it.
Let’s assume for the moment that all of the misfortune that is happening to the Hammond Family is happening to them because they own some of the last private land in the Wilderness Area and that it doesn’t have anything to do with the resources that lie under their land. The Government is trying to drive them out just because they want to incorporate their six thousand acre ranch into the Steens Mountain wilderness area, and they are doing it simply 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 a second time to Federal authorities or spend one more day more less five more years of their lives behind bars.
All over America federal prosecutors are planning to release thousands of actual criminals who are in jail on real drug charges because of Black lives matter and the President’s criminal justice reforms. I guess a couple of White ranchers in eastern Oregon don’t qualify for clemency or leniency in his Justice Department since they didn’t rape anyone or shoot anyone while they were high on meth and robbing their local Seven Eleven. White lives don’t matter to America’s first Black President.
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 took a trip from Eugene to Bend and I had a chance to drive over the Cascade Mountains… I hadn’t seen this part of the Cascades for nearly twenty years. What I saw left me saddened and speechless. The entire mountain range for miles around has been burned to the ground in all directions. Everywhere you look there is nothing but devastation. There isn’t a living tree as far as the eye can see. 100,000 acres of prime forest land were totally destroyed and none of the valuable timber was ever harvested. 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 fine or lost their job as a result of the damage they were responsible for which occurred under their watch. The B and B Complex Fires left a huge swath of the Cascade Mountains completely lifeless for generations and no government official served time or paid a damn dime, 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. The Hammonds own some of the last private land in the 100,000 acre “cow free zone” which is part of an even bigger area… the 170,000 acre Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. This wilderness area was created as a compromise worked out between Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and President Bill Clinton under the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act. It was supposed to prevent much of Harney County from becoming a National Park.“The Hammonds are some of 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 are the real villains in the story of the Hammond family of Harney County. It certainly isn’t the Hammonds. They were just trying to live their lives the way they had always lived them… like free men and women on the open range in eastern Oregon. The real villains in this story 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 in the Obama 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 departing Eric Holder.
It goes back to the man in the White House who shouldn’t be in the White House because he is not a Natural Born Citizen. His father was not an American Citizen at the time that Barack Obama was born which makes him constitutionally ineligible to be President. Whether he was born in Honolulu or Nairobi, Kenya it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. He is not constitutionally eligible to be President based on the fact that his father was not an American citizen. Obama should be impeached. His two terms in the White House have done far worse things to our country than Bill Clinton ever did in the Oval Orifice..
The only thing keeping Obama from being impeached is the color of his skin and the scarcity of enough backbone amongst Republicans in Congress to do the right thing. The four U.S. Attorneys who re-opened the case against the Dwight and Steven Hammond were just trying to impress their boss, and move up in the pecking order at the Department of Injustice. District Attorney Billy Williams was just following orders from his boss, Loretta Lynch who was just following orders from her boss, Barack Obama when they decided to re-open the Hammond case and overturn the original sentences of the trial court judge. The corruption starts at the top with Barack Obama.
The Assistant U.S. Attorneys who requested extra jail time for the Hammonds and the Federal Judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who revoked the trial judge’s original sentences and imposed additional time under the Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 should all be impeached. They are just as crazy as a Circuit Judge in Jackson County who sentenced a man to prison for collecting rain water without a permit.
It seems like most of our appointed and elected officials are so satiated with power that they have lost their sense of proportionality. Maybe they have lost their minds. When the plight of the Hammonds became publicized Ammon and Ryan Bundy who previously had their own run in with the BLM over their family’s grazing rights decided to come to their rescue. They came to Oregon to focus national media attention on the plight of the Hammond’s. Ammon recorded several interviews on local media and he and his brother began posting on social media.
Protestors from around the country led by the Ammon Bundy eventually decided to occupy a Federal building and dare the Feds to remove them. While most Americans understand that there is something wrong with our Federal Government, most of us are hoping to change it peacefully without a confrontation through the political process. We all know that when you put your hand in a wasp nest you should expect to get stung. You are the one that is going to get hurt, not the wasps. There is an election coming up in less than a year and we would like to change things in the election.
Burns, Oregon may not have been the right place or the right time to draw a proverbial line in the sand. It was 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 most of us hope to do it peacefully through the political process. I believe that is what our Founding Fathers would have suggested…
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 has drawn 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… They are courageous men and women who are standing up for all of us against the excessive and unconstitutional overreach of big 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 and his brother. I’m not sure the battle for our constitutional rights is going to be won or lost out in the middle of Harney County. 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.
Half of the land in Oregon is controlled by the Federal Government. If you live in Oregon and you would like to see the control of public land turned over to State and local government please sign this petition here at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/oregons-federally-administered-lands
THIS IS A LINK TO A NATIONAL PETITION TO RETURN CONTROL OF ALL FEDERAL LAND ADMINISTERED BY THE BLM TO THE STATES AND COUNTIES RESPECTIVELY OR TO THE PEOPLE. PLEASE SIGN IT AND SHARE IT. YOUR NAME WILL NOT BE PLACED ON A MAILING LIST. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/congressional-petition-regarding-federal-lands
Corroborating Source Material