Monday, January 04, 2016


It isn't just the libertarians at Reason magazine who think Dwight Hammond and his son Steven got an unfairly harsh sentence of five years for arson on federal land, in the case that sparked the current standoff at a wildlife refuge in Oregon -- the good liberals at Vox feel the same way:

Vox's German Lopez writes:
The Hammonds were sentenced to five years in prison for starting a fire that didn't injure anyone

... In 2001, the pair started a fire on their land to, they said, destroy invasive plants. But federal prosecutors argued that the Hammonds started the fire on federal property with a different motive: to cover up illegal deer killing. Whatever the reason, the fire spread to public land, burning 139 acres of public land and forestalling grazing for two seasons.

In 2006, the Hammonds started another fire, one that the government acknowledged was a defensive move -- to stop a lightning-caused fire from spreading to the pair's ranch. But prosecutors argued that the fire violated a countywide burn ban and was started despite knowledge of nearby part-time firefighters who could be harmed by another fire.

The fires didn't injure anyone, but they did damage federal property, a violation of federal law....

The men were convicted and sentenced for federal arson in 2012, under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that, despite its name, also defines how the government deals with arson cases on federal property.

The law requires that those convicted for arson of federal property receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. But US District Judge Michael Hogan said this was too harsh, violating Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. So he sentenced Dwight to three months in prison and Steve to a year, sentences that both men served.

In a rare move, federal prosecutors appealed the sentence. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that Hogan had illegally sentenced the Hammonds, and ordered the two men to serve the mandatory minimum sentence....
Are mandatory minimums from the throw-the-book-at-them unreasonable? Often they are. Lopez goes on to cite some decades-long sentences received by a criminals who'll never be heroes to Fox News viewers, such as this:
In another case, the law forced a Utah judge to give a 55-year sentence to Weldon Angelos for selling marijuana while allegedly possessing a gun in the early 2000s. Paul Cassell, the retired judge who tried Angelos's case, told ABC News in 2015 that the sentence still bothered him....
But five years in the pen is a hell of a lot less time than fifty-five years. So why are we only supposed to be upset at mandatory minimums now?

And whether it was a factor in the feds' decision to appeal the sentence or not, the past behavior of the Hammonds makes me think they're getting no more than they deserve. Roy Edroso found a fascinating account of early disputes the Hammonds had with the feds at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where the current standoff is taking place. This is from Nancy Langston and William Cronon's 2005 book Where Land & Water Meet: A Western Landscape Transformed.

So, a generation ago, Dwight and Steve Hammond were repeatedly in willful defiance of federal law to the point where they were held on felony charges -- remember, this was before the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed -- and the reason they were let go after spending only a couple of days in the clink was that a band of wingnut blackmailers threatened government agents (although there was also an assist from a hard-line anti-environmentalist congressman).

And Chuck Cushman, the man from whom the threats came? Here's what one critic says about him:
... Cushman has earned the nickname "Rent-a-Riot" for his ability to incite audiences to the verge of violent civil disobedience. He then carefully disassociates himself from responsibility for any threats or violence which actually result.
I'd be somewhat skeptical of this critic's characterization if it weren't for the fact that Cushman refers to himself as "Mr. Rent-a-Riot" in a bio posted by the American Land Rights Association and the Property Rights Foundation of America.

When I read all this, I find myself inclined to shed no tears for the Hammonds. They have no respect for the law, and they escaped justice years ago after a campaign of intimidation.

So screw 'em. Let 'em rot in prison.


UPDATE: Think Progress reports that Dwight and Steven Hammond abused a young member of their family (Dwight's grandson, Steven's nephew) on more than one occasion, forcing him to eat a full can of chewing tobacco, stranding him ten miles from home with no way back except to walk, and taking sandpaper to his bare chest after a cutting incident liked to the young man's clinical depression. No, these are not good people.


nancydrew said...

Strikes me (no pun intended) that a number of people weighing in on this, like Ezra, have never been anywhere near a wildfire in the western U.S. They are terrifying, can go wildly out of control with a change of the wind, and the Hammonds had no way of stopping what they set in motion when those fires were lit. Add that to rest of their miserable scofflaw history and yeah, they lucked out big time.

Screw them and the horses they rode in on.

mlbxxxxxx said...

I'm not a fan of mandatory minimum sentencing generally, but 5 years for arson doesn't strike me as a huge number. Not considering the potential damage arson can do and the penalties we dole out for drug convictions. I would support the abandonment of mandatory minimum sentencing which may get it's moment in the sun in the light of the Branch Stupidians. It is unfortunate that nothing gets done unless some conservative's ox gets gored, but that's the liberal paradise we live in.

Joey Blau said...

wow .. that was a lot of text .. I will have to read it. I think destruction of federal property, arson and negligence, hunting violations, loss of gun and hunting privileges for three years. and .. uh.. some other minor charges.

terrorism? please. the damn prosecutors do pile on the charges. telling some guy your are going to "fix his hash!" = terroristic threat and ten years.

RAM said...

According to the feds, the Hammonds set the fire to cover up the slaughtered remains of deer they had illegally shot out of season on BLM property, so they weren't just some guys who accidentally set a fire. They did it on purpose to cover up a crime. Here's the link:

nancydrew said...

@RAM Doesn't matter why they did it. They did it -- which endangers all in the vicinity -- arid western and remote land residents -- and has to be dealt with by the BLM and its many mostly young firefighter employees who put their lives at risk. It's not the local volunteer fire department that gets called in, au contraire to the numerous libertarians weighing in from urban armchairs. Ezra needs a reset. Also too.

Victor said...

What @nancydrew said.

Gerald Parks said...

Let US get this straight ...these guys ARE CONVICTED CRIMINALS!!!!
They have TAKEN OVER and are occupying FEDERAL PROPERTY

They aren't ALREADY dead or dying????

There is NO military ARMED response by LEO's????

NO snipers, armored tanks, tear gas, assault rifles aimed at them?????

Hupt ...must be white male Cristian domestic terrorist aka white supremacist, white privilege in ACTION.

Image ... African/Black American citizens, Mexican Americans, Muslim Americans doing this for any of the following:
Protesting the murder of UNARMED male, female and children ...all US citizens!
Fighting the deportation of THE Dreamers.
Protesting the terrorizing at their places of worship

Please someone ...walk me through this stark difference in reporting and response by local and State government!!!

Ten Bears said...

Most folks around here were pretty pissed off when it happened. Thank you. It's like me going to New York City: if you haven't seen it up front and personal, you just have no idea.

Ten Bears said...

Just to be clear, they're not terrorists. They're punks, vandalizing my back yard.

Carry on.

Unknown said...

These are pretty much the same a-holes that the LEOs on Justified have had to deal with in the fictional sense for all the years that show's been around.

If you spend any time with actual LEOs and D.A.s who serve the public in a general capacity rather than some specialized force, they'll tell you about what brain-disordered moronic selfish self-centered violent bullying scrotes there are in so many of our nation's rural areas, and not even just in Dixie. I'd say, it's actually worse in rural central Oregon (Head straight west from Malheur Reserve out to Bandon on the Pacific Coast and if you've been thru the rural part of the Carolinas it'll bring that to mind. Just as rought is much of Idaho, a good chuck of northern Montana, eastern Washington State, quite a lot of northern California above the greater Bay urban area, southwest Colorado, and a good chunck of the top north parts of Arizona and Nevada, all of those you'll feel not too much safer from on a foot tour thru central Afghanistan.

Ten Bears said...

Would you care to step outside?

CommonSense said...

The Hammond's have served enough time. If you agree, please sign this petition to the President asking for a commute of the sentence for the remainder of the Appeals Court Sentence of both Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr and Steven Dwight Hammond, of Harney County Oregon.

Ten Bears said...

No, they haven't served enough time. They put the community at large to risk, not just firefighters and law enforcement but families, livestock, infrastructure and potential not one town but two, Burns and Hines.

Clearly Ms Drew's observations are on the money, spot on. Fuck the Hammonds and fuck you too.

Ten Bears said...

You don't know what you're talking about. I commented upthread that out here is as foreign to your kind as New York is foreign to me. The difference is: I've been to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and have visited places - Ringwood NJ comes mind, forty-five minutes off the George Washington Bridge - in the Catskills, Poconos and Piney Woods that are quite "Appalachian".

You don't know what you're talking about.

Aunt Snow said...

Let's keep in mind that:

1) Minimum sentencing laws were highly favored by conservative law-and-order types. The reason the laws are on the books is because conservatives wanted them.

2) The reason the Hammonds' sentence was changed is because the appeals judge had to uphold the law.

3) The Hammonds, vile as they may be, are not occupying a building. They've told the Bundys to butt out. They have turned themselves in to begin serving their sentences.

4) The idiots occupying the building are exploiting this, creating a dangerous situation for their own benefit. Their actions will do nothing for the Hammonds, nothing to change the law, and nothing to change federal landuse policies.

5) And yes, the crime for which the Hammonds were prosecuted was a serious crime, which was committed to cover up another criminal act. They set a fire while a no-burn order was in place, and while there were firefighters in the area.

Ten Bears said...

Re #2, if they hadn't appealed, the appellate count wouldn't have changed the sentence. If they had kept kept their mouths shut and accepted the local court's decision, they wouldn't be back in jail.

Tom Hilton said...

That Vox piece, and then Chris Hayes's comments last night, infuriated me. Part of it is a knee-jerk response to "mandatory minimum" (the fact that mandatory minimum sentences are bad in general doesn't mean that every sentence under a mandatory minimum is necessarily excessive), and part of it is buying into the pro-Hammond version of events (so Lopez presents both versions, one of which was explicitly rejected by the jury, and then waves it all away with "whatever the reason..."). And I suspect part of this is that people like Ezra and the Vox crowd have longtime friends who are libertarians, whom because of that friendship they give more credence than they deserve on their own merit.

Roger said...

Vox isn't liberal. It's libertarian trustifarian, with a pop culture obsession.

Here's the Gubmint version of the Hammond case:

"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."

BadTux said...

Regarding the deer thing, there was one (1) witness who claimed the fire was to cover up deer slaughter on BLM land, and the jury didn't believe him and threw that charge out. The jury found the Hammonds guilty of two charges of arson of Federal lands. I'll note that neither of these fires required Federal fire-fighter assistance, the first fire was put out by the Hammonds while the second fire was extinguished when it ran into the fire it was a back-fire against. The jury agreed that the first fire was the result of a dispute between the Hammonds and federal land managers about how to handle invasive juniper, ranchers and, before them, the Native Americans had done controlled burns for centuries to keep the juniper in check and allow forage to return to the newly opened meadows, the BLM wanted to let the meadows go to juniper forest as would be the case if not for the regular controlled burns that had been done for centuries. The Hammonds decided to take the law into their own hands, and was justifiably convicted for doing so, but let's not take allegations that were not proven in a court of law and present them as fact. That's just slander/libel, pure and simple.

I've talked to a number of BLM/NPS/etc. employees over the years, and a lot of this kind of thing happens when the property rights alleged by the ranchers are ignored by BLM bureaucrats in Washington who basically are radical greenies who don't want the ranchers on the land at all and refuse to acknowledge any property rights that they don't agree with. One of my friends had to sue the BLM to get them to respect the title on land his family had patented a hundred years ago, the BLM simply ignored his property rights and did what they wanted to do, even sending a crew out there to demolish his house as illegal trespass on public lands, which resulted in a stand-off of sorts that was resolved with a court order served by the Sheriff ordering the crew to leave after he made a frantic call to the local judge. It took tens of thousands of dollars to get a final court order acknowledging title to his land and agreeing to not violate his property and it only happened because he blew enough of a hole in the local BLM office's legal budget that the BLM caved and acknowledged yes, he had title to his land despite their stupid electronic GIGO database (Garbage In, Garbage Out -- I have many examples of the BLM's land ownership GIS database being entirely incorrect because of data entry errors like that when they populated it from paper maps / land deeds back in the day).

In short, things are more complex out there than radical greenies from Back East like to think. The Hammonds are definitely assholes. But the BLM did a lot of illegal asshole moves too, such as cutting off his cattle from water with those fences that the Hammonds had water rights going back 100 years authorizing them to use. The problem is that the Hammonds took the law into their own hands rather than filing lawsuits after lawsuits and blowing enough holes in the BLM's legal budget that the BLM quit doing that kind of thing. That's the sort of things for which they should -- and did -- receive a jail term. But that doesn't change the fact that this whole situation was assholes all the way down on *both* sides, not just the Hammonds'.

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