Trump pardons Oregon ranchers who were catalyst for protests

The two Oregon ranchers whose arson conviction became the catalyst for the 40-day occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 have been pardoned by Donald Trump.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, were originally convicted in 2012 of setting a series of fires on their ranch that then spread to federal lands.  They were each sentenced to short prison terms, but the Obama administration appealed their sentence and threw them in jail in 2015 when a judge ruled that they needed to serve a mandatory minimum of five years.

That action led to the standoff at the wildlife refuge, where one protester, Robert LaVoy Finicum, was killed.

The Hill:

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 Walden (R-Ore.), who represents the area that includes the Hammonds' ranch, cheered Trump's pardon as a win against federal overreach.

There's more to this story than a simple miscarriage of justice.  The Hammonds had threatened federal authorities for years over the Bureau of Land Management's policies regarding the wildlife refuge.  Other ranchers were similarly unhappy, believing that the BLM's management of the refuge infringed on their property rights.

It didn't help that the BLM approached the situation with typical arrogance and high-handedness.  The result was an explosion of anger at the government and a forty-day standoff between some local ranchers – and far more radical right-wing, anti-government activists who showed up to protest.

The Hammonds disavowed the protest once the character of many of the protesters became clear.  And Trump was right to pardon them, given the Obama administration's unreasonable, punitive attitude toward the ranchers.

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