By John Friend —
BURNS, Oregon—A protest taking place at an occupied federal facility in southeastern Oregon has entered its second week as AMERICAN FREE PRESS goes to press. The standoff currently taking place at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge just south of Burns, Oregon is a direct result of the tyrannical prosecution of two local ranchers, Dwight L. and Steven D. Hammond, who surrendered to federal authorities on January 4 after years of federal persecution, intimidation, and harassment.
AFP was on the scene at Burns to cover the standoff.
Dwight, 74, and Steven, 46, father-and-son ranchers have experienced severe mistreatment, persecution, and harassment at the hands of various entities of the United States federal government, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2012, they were convicted under federal anti-terrorism laws for starting what’s referred to as a “backfire” on their private property to combat a bigger wildfire caused by a lightning strike. The backfire lit by the Hammonds was successful and saved not only the Hammonds’s property, but also surrounding public and private land.
The All-American Hammond Family
In an incredibly unjust trial, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael R. Hogan, now-retired, sentenced Dwight to three months in prison and issued Steven a one-year prison term. Following the completion of their prison terms and subsequent release in early 2014, federal authorities appealed Hogan’s ruling, arguing the Hammonds must return to prison for the full five-year-minimum sentence required under the federal anti-terrorism law. In October 2015, the Hammonds were re-sentenced and informed they must serve the five-year sentence in federal prison.
Following their re-sentencing, the Hammonds consulted with iconic rancher Cliven Bundy and his son, Ammon, as well as local and national militia and constitutionalist groups, on ways to address and rectify the federal prosecution and harassment meted out to the Hammonds over the years. But federal authorities intimidated the Hammonds, and they ultimately decided to surrender to federal authorities.
John Friend interviews (47:29) BLM spokesman Randy Eardly
“We have obtained appalling evidence that the U.S. Attorney’s Office threatened the Hammond family with early detention and further punishment, if the Hammond family continued to communicate with a certain individual,” Ammon Bundy stated. “This evidence foundationally speaks against the U.S. Attorney’s Office in their gross effort to infringe upon the Hammonds’s right to free exercise of speech.”
In spite of the Hammonds’ surrender, Ammon Bundy and other supporters did not back down.
On December 11, they released a notice of redress of grievance on behalf of the Hammonds, outlining in great detail the serious legal improprieties with the Hammonds’ federal prosecution and persecution. To date, the redress of grievance, which was sent to a number of local and state officials, has not been responded to in any serious way.
“I believe that the local governments have failed these people,” Cliven Bundy, the heroic rancher who successfully stood up to the BLM and federal government in April 2014, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “The sheriff, he has the duty to protect the life, liberty, and property of his citizens. And I believe he has failed totally here.”
Locals Support Oregon Rebellion
By John Friend
You’ve heard the mainstream media and even some in the patriot community condemn Ammon Bundy and his supporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. But the truth is, they have received widespread support from locals as well as from other ranchers and landowners across the United States. At a community meeting held in Burns on January 6, roughly 500 attendees gathered to voice their opinions on the occupation and protest.
“Dwight Hammond and Steven Hammond are the nicest people that ever walked the foot of this Earth,” one local resident stated during the community meeting in Burns. “They got a rotten deal. And these people down here at the refuge—I just came from there and I talked to them and they ain’t hurtin’ a damn thing down there . . . . They brought us all together. They’re waking people up. So I think they’re going to work this out. They’re just making a statement for us, to wake us up.”
Some local residents disagree with the tactics used by Bundy and his entourage, and have viewed with suspicion many of the outsiders entering Harney County to protest on behalf of the Hammonds and other local ranchers.
However, based on this reporter’s experience at the refuge and the conversations and interviews conducted, the majority of the local residents sympathize with the Hammonds’ plight and are grateful Bundy and the other protesters are bringing to light the very serious problems ranchers and other landowners are having with federal entities such as the Bureau of Land Management. Many locals have visited the refuge, bringing food, water, and other supplies for the occupation.
“We have had non-stop people since Sunday flowing through our doors wanting and giving us stories about exactly what we’ve suspected and saw,” Ammon Bundy explained during a Jan. 7 press conference that AFP attended. “I think there is something much bigger here that needs to be resolved, and until we know and understand that the people are going to end up on top here, we plan on staying.”
RANCHER SPEAKS OUT
LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher close to the Bundys and Hammonds, who is heavily involved with the current occupation, summed up the situation concisely in an exclusive interview with AFP.
The Hammonds and countless other ranchers and landowners across the country are facing a situation in which “all three branches of power—the legislative, executive, and judicial—[are] combined under one head with no representation,” Finicum explained to this newspaper. “That’s what we fought against in the beginning, was it not? Taxation without representation. Well, here we are again.”
Finicum noted that the occupation and protest is “the only step forward at this current time now. All these other ranchers have had it—we’re done, we’re through.”
“Right now we still stand with people clear across this country having all these questions,” Ammon Bundy explained in a press conference on January 7 shortly after meeting briefly with Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward. “It is important that government responds to their people and does not ignore them.”
Bundy continued by noting that the occupation and protest at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge began “when we exhausted all our prudent methods to petition the elected representatives and they ignore the people 100%. They do not respond in any way. In fact, Judge Steve Grasty said that everybody who signed that notice of redress of grievance was crazy . . . a bunch of crazies. That’s how they view those that look at the Hammond situation as egregious, as something really wrong. I do not believe the American people are crazy. I believe that they are concerned, and that they have a right to their land and resources.”
Many media reports have described the Hammonds as domestic terrorists due to the nature of the federal charges they have been found guilty of. Other pundits and commentators are describing Bundy and his supporters occupying the refuge as domestic terrorists and anti-government extremists.
Finicum strongly disagrees with that assessment.
“Let’s consider exactly who is a terrorist right now at this time,” Finicum told AFP. “Who was terrorized and threatened, coerced, thrown in jail once, and then once again years later for the very same thing? Was it not the Hammond family? Were they not terrorized? Were they not put under duress? Did they not lose their property? Now have they not lost their liberty? So let’s get real—who’s the terrorist?”
Pete Santilli, an independent journalist who has been covering the situation in Harney County for weeks, told AFP that the government and media have literally weaponized the term “domestic terrorist,” applying it to patriotic American citizens who dare stand up to the tyrannical federal government.
“The Hammond family basically ticked off the wrong people and the system came down upon them and they were declared terrorists wrongfully,” Santilli explained. “We need to submit and take certain steps to address the federal government, to address the local sheriffs, and to bring justice—to bring really full disclosure of the anomalies surrounding the Hammond case.”
John Friend interviews (34:44) independent radio host and activist Patricia Aiken
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE OCCUPATION?
Critics have argued that Bundy and his supporters, which include other ranchers such as Finicum as well as a variety of patriot and militia-style organizations, were wrong to occupy the refuge, especially considering the Hammonds publicly distanced themselves from Bundy and other protesters.
However, after speaking with many individuals involved with the occupation and others who are knowledgeable about the wider issues relating to this case, it’s evident that the occupation and protest are about much more than just the Hammonds’ plight.
“We’re here for the people,” Ammon Bundy noted during his press conference. “And what needs to happen here is that these lands that are unconstitutionally being held, they need to be returned back to the people. And they need to have control of them, they need to be able to be free on them, they need to be able to use them without intimidation and without fear. And until we can see that that can be accomplished—it doesn’t have to fully be accomplished—but until we can see that there is great momentum and that people can get doing that themselves, then we will remain. Who knows, that could be a week—that could be a year.”
Finicum echoed Bundy’s sentiments.
“We’re here as ranching families to come and help other ranching families—that’s what it is,” Finicum told AFP, “to help them to reclaim Harney County and to reclaim their resources. I hope you realize Harney County used to be the wealthiest county in Oregon until the federal government seized all the resources. Now it’s the poorest. So we’re here. You have to ask the state to right it. If the state doesn’t right it, you have to ask the county to right it. Then, finally, if there is no more recourse, the citizens themselves must stand up and right it.”
Time will tell whether or not the local, state, and federal officials negotiating with Bundy and his supporters at the refuge will take seriously their redress of grievance and rectify the very real injustices that have been and continue to be committed against hard-working ranchers and landowners such as the Hammonds who have been harassed and intimidated for years by the federal government.
What is happening to the Hammonds “affects me in Arizona with my ranch, it affects all my neighboring ranchers that we met with,” Finicum noted. “It affects the ranchers in Idaho, it affects the ranchers in Nevada.”
Stick with AFP for more updates on the ongoing standoff in Oregon.
John Friend is a California-based writer who maintains a blog.