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Sunday, January 03, 2016


Occupied agin'

by Tom Sullivan

We'll get to why in a minute, but them Bundy boys and their guns are once again occupying some godforsaken patch of federal land. Supporters declared that the press refuses to cover their lonely, heroic stand against federal tyranny hours from the nearest news outlet. (The AP, Washington Post, ABC News, the New York Daily News, the Guardian , Die Zeit and others have reported the story.) Twitter posts are under the hashtag #burnsoregon .

From the AP:

BURNS, Ore. (AP) — A peaceful protest Saturday in support of an eastern Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson was followed shortly afterward by an occupation of a building at a national wildlife refuge. Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights, told The Oregonian (http://is.gd/bK7d4E ) that he and two of his brothers were among a group of dozens of people occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

From the Oregonian:

Update at 9:15 p.m.: Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: "After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation."

The Guardian's Jason Wilson (based in Portland) tweeted:

Now, the reason for the protest was the October arson convictions of local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steve:

EUGENE, Ore. – Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, both residents of Diamond, Oregon in Harney County, were sentenced to five years in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken for arsons they committed on federal lands.

A jury sitting in Pendleton, Oregon found the Hammonds guilty of the arsons after a two-week trial in June 2012. The trial involved allegations that the Hammonds, owners of Hammond Ranches, Inc., ignited a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation.

The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told 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.” One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations. After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands. Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond of using fire to destroy federal property regarding a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. An August lightning storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires. Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several “back fires” in an attempt save the ranch’s winter feed. The fires burned onto public land and were seen by BLM firefighters camped nearby. The firefighters took steps to ensure their safety and reported the arsons.

By law, arson on federal land carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. When the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the five-year mandatory minimum terms were unconstitutional and the trial court agreed and imposed sentences well below what the law required based upon the jury’s verdicts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld the federal law, reasoning that “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.” The court vacated the original, unlawful sentences and ordered that the Hammonds be resentenced “in compliance with the law.” In March 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the Hammonds’ petitions for certiorari. Today, Chief Judge Aiken imposed five year prison terms on each of the Hammonds, with credit for time they already served.

“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires. Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.

“Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States’ property by fire will serve at least 5 years in prison. These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank R Papagni, Jr., AnneMarie Sgarlata and Kelly Zusman handled the prosecution of this case.

Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, provided a video manifesto explaining their intentions, and urged on Facebook: "**ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED."

Think Progress:

In an ominous sign, one member of the group, Jon Ritzheimer, posted a goodbye video to his family on YouTube today. “I want to die a free man,” Ritzheimer says.

Goodbye videos are vaguely reminiscent of something familiar:

A new video purportedly released by the Islamic State appears to show a jihadist dad saying goodbye to his jihadist sons before driving a car bomb to his death.

Ammon Akbar, boys!

Please don't bury me
Down in that cold, cold ground
No, I'd rather have 'em cut me up
And pass me all around"

"Throw my brain in a hurricane
And the blind can have my eyes
And the deaf can take both of my ears
If they don't mind the size"

- from Please Don't Bury Me by John Prine