President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon ranchers whose arson conviction became a focus for opponents of federal government land ownership.
Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, were convicted in 2012 and sent to prison on arson charges. They had set a series of fires on their ranch that spread to federal land.
The Hammonds’ case became the inspiration for the 40-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. The organizers wanted to protest federal land ownership.
The Hammonds distanced themselves from the violent occupiers and didn't endorse the action.
One of the occupiers, Robert LaVoy Finicum, died, and a handful pleaded guilty to charges related to the occupation. But brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the accused leaders of the occupation, were not convicted.
In a statement Tuesday announcing the pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized uncertainties in the case and the prison terms and fines the Hammonds had already paid.
“The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges,” the White House said. “The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West. Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
Both men are currently in prison on five-year sentences, thanks in part to a 1996 antiterrorism law that imposed a mandatory minimum sentence on certain crimes on federal land. The length of their prison terms, in part, fueled outrage at their convictions.
Federal Judge Michael Robert Hogan originally gave the Hammonds reduced sentences in 2012, arguing that the mandatory minimums were unjust. But the Obama administration appealed, and federal Judge Ann Aiken in 2015 imposed the full five-year sentences.
“This was unjust,” Sanders said in her statement. Dwight Hammond has served about three years of his sentence and Steven Hammond has served about four of his. Trump’s pardon will set them free.
Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.), who represents the area that includes the Hammonds’ ranch, cheered Trump’s pardon as a win against federal overreach.
“Today is a win for justice, and an acknowledgment of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West,” he said in a statement. “As ranchers across eastern Oregon frequently tell me, the Hammonds didn’t deserve a five year sentence for using fire as a management tool, something the federal government does all the time.”
The Washington Post first reported last month that the Hammonds were among a group Trump was considering for pardons or commutations, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), celebrity businesswoman Martha Stewart and Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman whom celebrity Kim Kardashian West had advocated for.
Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence in June after she served 21 years.
The Hammonds are the eighth and ninth individuals granted clemency by Trump. Others include conservative activist Dinesh D'Souza and former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Conservation groups slammed the pardon and said it amounts to an endorsement of violent extremism.
“Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities said, adding that Trump “has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.”
“The Hammonds are dangerous people with a history of arson, illegal grazing and threatening federal officials,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s pardon abandons human decency and will encourage more violence and extremism among his base.”
Updated at 4:21 p.m.