By Tabitha Harris,
Domestic News Writer
Many in America are disgruntled with the present administration and with its manner of handling various issues. Although quite a number of dissenters take to social media and internet blogs to express their frustration, many would think twice before openly challenging the government by vandalizing property and staging angry protests. This is not the case with a group in Oregon designated as militiamen and ranchers.
Dwight Hammond Jr., aged 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, aged 46, were arrested in 1999 in conjunction with an arson charge. According to reports, Steve Hammond had started a fire on his land, which then spread to federal bureau land. Warned by authorities to cease lighting fires, Hammond was essentially let off the hook.
However, in 2001, another fire was set followed by yet another in 2006. Roughly 139 acres were destroyed in the first fire, which Hammond maintains was started to deal with a pesky juniper tree on his property. The second fire was lit in response to a lightning-ignored fire, which threatened Hammond’s crops.
In 2010, both Dwight and Steve Hammond were indicted on federal arson charges and sentenced in 2012 to five years in prison. The punishment, however, was deemed “shocking to the conscience” and so was limited to three months for Dwight and one year for Steve. A few years passed and the matter hit the courts once again in October of 2015.
Amanda Marshall, US attorney for Oregon, challenged District Judge Michael Hogan’s lenient decision and labelled it illegal. Marshall’s objection was deemed plausible by the appeals court and so both Hammonds found themselves in a court room facing the full sentence for their crime. Found guilty once more, Dwight and Steve Hammond were allowed to spend time with their families over the holidays but told that the sentence would begin on Jan. 4, which it has.
Strident outrage ensued upon the Hammonds’ final sentencing. As quoted by The Oregonian, Melodi Molt, a rancher and former president of Oregon Cattle Women expressed her annoyance by stating, “there’s nobody in history who has gone to prison for burning a few acres of private property.”
Ammon Bundy has been cited as the leader of the protest which began in early January of 2016. He assured onlookers and critics that the demonstration was, and would remain, decidedly peaceful. Ryan Bundy echoed his brother’s sentiments by saying, “we don’t want it to end with violence, we’re not looking for bloodshed”. Taking up residence in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, protestors have been showered with meals and blankets by caring residents.
However, all is not as peaceful as the Bundy’s claim. The brothers are part of a militia group which supports local ranchers. Militia denotes armed disturbance and mischief, which aligns to a degree with the actual shenanigans of the Bundy’s and their militia. Federal property has been commandeered and destroyed, including fences in the wildlife sanctuary and cameras, all purported by LaVoy Finicum, one of the main spokesman for the militia. In addition, the militia has paved a road through the middle of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
What began as a protest in response to an unfair sentencing has escalated into a mini-war against governmental tyranny and oppression. Ryan Bundy describes the “new” objective of the militia as attempt to “restore rights to people who have lost them or surrendered them”. He, along with the rest of his supporters, believes the presence of the militia is one of the final blockades to total government control of the West. Ammon Bundy informed reporters that a firm resolve to enforce the Constitution was deeply ingrained in each and every one of his followers. Eradicating federal ownership of what are deemed private lands is high on the agenda for the Oregon occupiers.
On Jan. 19, an FBI agent identifying himself as “Chris” contacted Ammon Bundy in an effort to bring tensions to an end. An hour-long phone conversation ensued, the result of which still remains unclear. The FBI has expressed a desire to work with the Bundy’s and their militia in the hopes of bringing resolution to the conflict. For the time being, however, both Hammonds continue to serve their sentences in prison.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, January 26th print edition.
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