An uneasy peace between some Oregon ranchers and U. S. authorities regarding a federal wildlife refuge was shattered by the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by an armed civilian militia on January 3, 2016.
According to the militia leader, Ammon Bundy, as many as 100 armed civilians occupy the Refuge headquarters, located approximately 30 miles south of Burns, Oregon, and intend to stay for years.
The criminal seizure of federal property and criminal possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in a federal facility were supposedly spurred by the resentencing of 2 convicted arsonists, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond.
The Hammonds were convicted of committing arsons in 2001 and 2006 on federal lands on which the Hammonds had leased grazing rights for their cattle. At jury trial, the Hammonds claimed the 2001 arson was merely a controlled brushfire to clear weeds; however, multiple witnesses testified that the 2001 arson was committed to cover up the illegal slaughter of several deer on federal land. The 2006 arson conviction arose from the Hammonds’ fires on federal land in direct defiance of a federal burn ban.
The mandatory minimum sentence for arson on federal lands is 5 years’ imprisonment. However, the trial court unlawfully reduced the Hammonds’ sentences and Dwight Hammond, Jr. served 3 months and Steven Hammond served 1 year. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal sentencing minimum: “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.”
The Hammonds plan to surrender quietly on January 4, 2016; however, other ranchers seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, demanding the Hammonds’ release and the federal government’s relinquishment of all control of the Malheur National Forest. A YouTube video of militia members discussing the takeover is accessible here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN4DAuYD5m0
Though the Hammonds renounce the militia’s actions and though the militia’s actions are clearly criminal, militia leader Ammon Bundy states, “What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.” Furthermore, Ammon and Ryan Bundy stated that they will not rule out violence if police try to remove them from the federal facility and lands.
Oregon State Police, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI are all involved in the situation but are taking no apparent action yet.
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