Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Whose Case Sparked Malheur Takeover

Justin Sullivan  Getty Images North America

Justin Sullivan Getty Images North America

The Hammonds, who own a ranch in remote eastern OR, had been convicted of arson for setting fires that burned federally owned land.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump pardoned the OR father and son who set fire to federal lands in protest over grazing rights for their cattle.

The standoff in support of the Hammonds was led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.

"The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbours, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West", a statement by the White House said.

Six years ago, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, part of a family of ranchers in the high desert of eastern OR, were convicted of arson.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 and sent to prison on arson charges.

The Hammonds were given five years, with credit for time served, in 2015. "I hope that Dwight and Steven will soon be able to continue their work on the Hammond Ranch". Their five-year mandatory minimum sentence drew criticism from ranchers' groups who have been critical of the government's stewardship of the nation's expansive federal lands.

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Witnesses testified that a 2001 arson fire occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered deer on federal Bureau of Land Management property.

The President's pardon of the Hammonds will be seen in the minds of the far right militia movement as justification and absolution for the armed takeover of the land, a former law enforcement official who was involved in the OR militia standoff tells CNN. Activists want the federal government to cede land to the states and accuse the government of regulatory over-reach and meddling in the Western way of life. The decision sparked a protest from Ammon Bundy and dozens of others, who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern OR from January 2 to February 11, 2016.

Local community members, as well as supporters of the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, planned to gather at the airport to welcome the two men home.

The nonprofit would not have objected to Trump simply commuting the Hammonds' sentences and setting them free, Weiss said.

Yet Steven Grasty, a former Harney County commissioner, credited Walden and organizations, such as the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, not the refuge occupiers led by Ammon Bundy, for achieving the Hammonds' freedom.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond for a 2006 blaze that prosecutors said began when he started several back fires, violating a burn ban, to save his winter feed after lightning started numerous fires nearby.

Originally, a federal judge imposed prison terms of three months for Dwight Hammond and a year for Steven Hammond after finding the five-year mandatory terms required under federal law "really would shock the conscience".

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