Five things to know about the militia standoff in rural Oregon

Tension had been building for weeks over the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond

Protesters march on Court Avenue in support of an Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson in Burns, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Family members were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each. (Les Zaitz/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO LOCAL INTERNET; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Protesters march on Court Avenue in support of an Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson in Burns, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016.  (Les Zaitz/The Oregonian via AP)

BURNS, Ore. — Armed protesters are occupying a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and asking militia members around the country to join them. The protesters went to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday following a peaceful rally in support of two Oregon ranchers facing additional prison time for arson.


Tension has been building for weeks in the Burns, Oregon, area over the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond. Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. The two were convicted three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But in October, a federal judge in Oregon ruled their terms were too short under U.S. law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.


The Hammonds have received support from local residents, but the most vocal groups are from outside the area. Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights, is among those organizing the opposition at the wildlife refuge. Ammon Bundy and militiamen from other states arrived last month in Burns, some 60 miles from the Hammond ranch. Ammon Bundy has criticized the U.S. government for what he called a failed legal process.


The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is about 30 miles south of Burns in in the high desert of eastern Oregon. The area is very remote, about 280 miles southeast of Portland.


Many locals have told the outside groups to stay away, concerned their presence could lead to violence. The Hammonds, as well, have rebuffed the Bundy’s support for their cause. “Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” the Hammonds’ lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward. Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Monday as ordered by the judge. “We gave our word that’s what we would do, and we intend to act on it,” he told The Associated Press last week.


Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has told people to stay away from the area as authorities work to defuse the situation. Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, told AP the agency was aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge but made no further comment.

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Five things to know about the militia standoff in rural Oregon

  1. The article needs to be more clear on one aspect of the issue. It was the federal justice dept’s decision to seek a greater penalty under anti-terrorism statutes that drove this issue to the fore.
    The same federal govt. that refuses to classify the Ft. Hood shootings as terrorism wants a controlled underbrush burn that got out of hand as terrorism.

    • Hah!

      Right-wing nuts: Tough on crime! Mandatory minimums! Yeah!

      Judge: You’re going to jail.

      Right-wing nuts: What? Mandatory minimums aren’t for people like us!

      • The Hammonds were willing to accept their punishment, and did not contest the 3 and 7 month jail terms that they were handed. Where this went off the rails was the lawlessness of the federal government in attempting to punish them under an anti-terrorism statute.
        Again, the overreach of the feds is suspect. Compare this to the failure of federal prosecutors to charge any number of known actors with incitement to riot in Ferguson, MO or Baltimore, MD. Or, Rahm Emanuel with conspiracy to obstruct justice, for that matter.

        • No there wasn’t simply an attempt. Nor was there “lawlessness”.
          They were prosecuted in a court of law and convicted of arsons that carry mandatory minimum sentences.
          They aren’t willing to accept this.
          Boo. Hoo. Hoo.

          • They were convicted and sentenced. They agreed not to contest the jail sentences handed to them. The original judge in the case ruled that a conviction under the original statute was unconscionable, and the Hammonds agreed to a lesser term. One of the terms that they also agreed to was that they would not contest the conviction.
            The federal government appealed the original sentence, and asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to increase the sentence under provisions of a federal anti-terror statute, which they did.
            The lawlessness stems from the continued unevenhandedness of the Obama administration. Citizens and groups that might have a tendency to vote Republican are treated as enemies of the state, regardless of the scale of their action. Citizens and groups that might have a tendency to vote Democrat are given a free pass by the Obama/Holder/Lynch justice department, regardless of the level of destruction they commit.

          • They were convicted under laws that required the minimum sentences that they received.
            They aren’t willling to accept this.
            The mandatory minimums and “tough on crime” the right-wing nuts love are only for other people.
            Sadly, a higher court upheld the law and overturned the lower court’s activist judge’s ruling. *dabs tear from eye*

            “By law, arson on federal land carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. When the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the five-year mandatory minimum terms were unconstitutional and the trial court agreed and imposed sentences well below what the law required based upon the jury’s verdicts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld the federal law, reasoning that “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.” The court vacated the original, unlawful sentences and ordered that the Hammonds be resentenced “in compliance with the law.”

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