President Donald Trump’s pardon this week of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond touched off celebrations among the extremist factions and militia movements that supported them.
After leaving a federal prison in California on Tuesday, the Hammonds were flown Wednesday to Burns Municipal Airport on the private jet of Forrest Lucas, a multimillionaire oil magnate and good friend of Vice President Mike Pence.
The Hammonds were met by an enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers, who included Jason Patrick, one of the perpetrators of the 41-day armed occupation in 2016 of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“The whole world knows the name Hammond because of the refuge takeover,” Patrick told The Oregonian newspaper.
His sentiment was echoed by Ryan Bundy, one of the family members who led the armed occupation.
“Today shows we were right, we went there for a good reason and our efforts have finally come to fruition,” Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcasting on Tuesday. “All of those who went with us and supported the Hammonds, they should be pardoned also.”
The occupation was a tragic, bizarre event that will live in infamy in the modern-day history of Oregon and the West, and it bears remembering exactly what the Hammonds did to land in prison in the first place.
They were responsible for a series of fires starting in 2001 on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land on which they leased grazing rights. The first burned 139 acres and destroyed evidence of several deer Steve Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered. They told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about it. Then, in 2006, they torched more property in the midst of a burn ban imposed due to severe wildfire danger.
The Hammonds received a fair trial and were found guilty by a jury of their peers. They were given extremely lenient sentences that ignored the mandatory minimum five years prescribed by federal law. The government appealed, the trial court ordered them back to prison and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the ranchers’ appeal.
Their supporters used the case as a rallying cry, and mobilized — the Bundys by taking up arms against the government.
To be fair, the Hammonds did not participate in the refuge standoff and have sought to distance themselves from it. They do, however, have a history of conflict with federal agents. They are leading figures in the movement that treats public lands as private entitlements, casts the government as tyrannical, and considers itself above the laws that apply to the rest of us. They are not altar boys.
As we’ve said before, responsible ranchers don’t behave the way the Hammonds did, and should want nothing to do with these reckless men. Their arsons could have caused death or injury to firefighters or others. They burned property that belongs to all Americans. They tried hard to avoid taking responsibility for their crimes.
A broad swath of America believes that what the Hammonds and Bundys did amounts to domestic terrorism. In what alternate universe is it OK to set fires and point guns at law enforcement officers, then claim federal persecution? If they were black, or Latino, the voices clamoring to pardon them would be nonexistent. Witness the overwhelming force brought to bear against the Black Panthers in the 1960s, none of which was evident in the Bundy standoffs in Nevada and Oregon.
There is a double standard based on race in America, which President Trump has cynically pandered to. The Hammonds check many of the boxes that sell to his base — a narrative of vengeful, overwrought government justice brought to bear on a white, resourceful family. Understanding that, it’s no surprise he took notice of their case. This pardon serves his political needs, not justice or jurisprudence.
The decision was rightfully slammed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and even some in Eastern Oregon who confronted and chased out the Bundys.
“The federal court … followed the Rule of Law in overturning the Hammonds’ reduced sentences for committing arson on Oregon fed lands,” Rosenblum tweeted. “POTUS, who has not set foot here since being elected, has pardoned them. We can only wonder why.”
In closing, we applaud the wise words of our sister newspaper, the East Oregonian in Pendleton …
“We hope this is a narrow victory for two men and one family,” the newspaper wrote. “If it is twisted into a triumph for an extremist element who believes they have been called by God and the Constitution to threaten, fight and war against the government, then the decision to pardon will have a long-term, damaging effect.”