The remote high desert of eastern Oregon became the latest flashpoint for anti-government sentiment as armed protesters occupied a national wildlife refuge to object to a prison sentence for local ranchers for burning federal land.
I don’t think it is an accident they choose to attack a wildlife refuge. Many of the people behind this movement would rather run cattle on land than have it saved to support wildlife. The government manages the land for the public as a trust. And it is in the public’s interest for species to be protected. Maybe not the ranchers’ interests.
Ammon Bundy posted a video on his Facebook page asking for militia members to come help him. He said “this is not a time to stand down. It’s a time to stand up and come to Harney County,” where Burns is located.
They are calling for an armed insurrection against the government. We still live in a democracy. A flawed system to be sure. But not flawed enough to replace it with the type of militia rule tearing apart countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Any number of countries around the world would have responded with over-matched violence and exterminated the threat. I am not suggesting violence is the answer. But these people are criminals. They aren’t using a political process to address their grievances. They are turning to the power of their guns. And in a democracy this is not how things are done.
This is no different than rioters in the streets protesting police shooting. No different than a lunatic shooting people at Planned Parenthood, no different than terrorist who resort to violence to solve problems. This is still a democracy. The land in question is not owned by the government it is owned by all of us. The public as a whole owns the land.
Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit the fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.
Honestly I can understand their concerns. But if I live next door to someone with a ranch. And they never maintain their property. It doesn’t give me the right to go over and set fire to their land. It may be a measure to protect my own land. But it would still be illegal for me to burn their property. This is not the way things are done in a country ruled by laws. The process can be slow and frustrating. Maybe it even needs to be changed. But taking the law into your own hands by burning property which doesn’t belong to you is wrong. It would be wrong if I burned your land to protect my own. And it is wrong for these people to burn out land. Period.
The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But a federal judge ruled in October that their terms were too short under U.S. minimum sentencing law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
This is where I agree with the Hammond’s. They should have been given the longer sentences. But there was an error. Someone made the mistake of giving them the lighter sentence. Well, if they served the time, let them go. It isn’t fair to call them back and force them to serve more time. A court of law gave them a sentence. And they did the sentence. If I pay a bill with a company, and they agree it is settled. It wouldn’t be fair for them to come back later and tell me they made an error. And expect me to pay an extra amount they just figured out I owed. I would expect the company to take the loss. And I expect the court system to accept they made a mistake. And due to the mistake these two criminal got off easy. Now, if there is a repeat of the crime. Then the original sentences should be enforced.
Now for a discussion of what I believe is at the root of the issue.
These people are suffering real losses. They are hurting and struggling in their businesses. I can understand the natural desire to target the Federal Government and public lands. It would be tempting to believe expanded range could save the business. And understandable why people would feel the need to take illegal actions to protect a business already facing so many risks. This applies to this case, but also the Bundy Ranch case in Nevada.
As for the Hammonds, they hope to keep the family business going with help from relatives. Maybe, Dwight Hammond said, when his son gets out of prison, “he can still have a family and a ranch to go back to.”
I feel bad for these people.