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By Mark Anderson
President Donald Trump on July 10 signed presidential pardons for 76-year-old Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, 49—the embattled Oregon ranchers who suffered gross injustices after they were forced to serve consecutive prison terms despite being found innocent by a jury of the most serious charges. Their jailing eventually spurred the respected Bundy ranching family to protest the men’s plight at the Malheur nature preserve.
“The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges,” a White House statement said. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
The Hammonds, sentenced to five years in 2012 for that conviction, became the focal point of ranchers and others who oppose the federal government’s notoriously wasteful and costly mismanagement of massive tracts of Western lands to which it claims “ownership.” While mainstream media have simplistically claimed “they had set a series of fires on their ranch that spread to federal land,” in reality, the Hammonds started a “backburn” on their grazing land in Harney County, Ore. The controlled burn was lit, without malicious intent, to mitigate the impact of a totally separate fire on adjacent federal land that was headed their way.
In response to the Hammonds’ jailing, protesters, including the sons of famed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County in early 2016. The mainstream media were quick to call it an “armed standoff.” However, the only use of firearms came when one of the occupiers, soft-spoken Robert LaVoy Finicum, died with his hands in the air in a hail of gunfire from state police and federal agents when he exited the driver’s seat of his vehicle at a police roadblock, while en route to a diplomatic meeting with area law enforcement.
Cliven Bundy, who became a focal point on the long, hard road he and scores of other ranchers have had to travel to expose and resist the overreach of the federal “landlord,” reacted to the news of the Hammonds’ clemency, telling AFP: “This is a great day for America, a great day for the ranchers in Oregon, and a great day for the Bundy family.”
Bundy explained: “The Bundy family didn’t have any vested interest in the Hammonds, except that they were ranching neighbors. My son Ammon called on local, county, state, and federal officials [about the Hammond’s plight]. Not one would respond
to his call. President Trump is the only man in these governments who responded to Ammon’s call and found the federal government’s criminal justice system was unjust.”
He continued: “The Hammonds sacrificed their ranch and money to attorneys and paid the federal government thousands and thousands of dollars, and LaVoy Finicum lost his life. The federal government cost my son Ammon $15 million. He had two thriving businesses; the federal government stepped in and told the people he was doing business with to stop doing business with Ammon. They weren’t just happy to put Ammon in jail and to murder LaVoy. They wanted to ruin people’s lives.”
Cliven summarized, “Shame on you, America, for allowing this to happen, and thank you, President Trump, for trying to make things straight.”
Mark Anderson is AFP’s roving editor.