Oregon Standoff

Armed Protesters in Oregon Occupy Remote Federal Outpost at Wildlife Refuge After Marching Against Sentence of Father and Son Ranchers

Justice Department appealed the sentence to get it extended to the mandatory minimum, which the district chief judge thought was "grossly disproportionate."



Yesterday afternoon, as many as 300 demonstrators gathered in Burns, Oregon, to protest a federal appeals court's decision to extend the length of a sentence handed down by a district chief judge in the arson case of ranchers father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond.

The two started a series of range fires on their private property which eventually spread onto federal land. The federal government prosecuted them in 2012 on an array of charges, from conspiracy to attempting to damage property through fire. They were found guilty on only two arson counts, which covered activities (setting fires) the Hammonds admitted to. As part of their plea deal, they agreed not to appeal their sentences. 73-year-old Dwight Hammond was sentenced to three months in prison and his 46-year-old son Steven to 11 months, below the mandatory minimum of five years, which the judge, Michael Hogan, called "grossly disproportionate" and said would "shock his conscience."

As per the deal, the Hammonds didn't appeal the sentence. But the Department of Justice did, getting the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Hogan's decision and order the Hammonds to return to jail. They are supposed to do so on Monday.

Many media outlets are not reporting these particular facts. Oregon Live's article, part of an ongoing series, listed as "highly cited" by Google News, mentions only that the protesters opposed the Hammonds' prosecution and that the father-son duo would be reporting to jail Monday.

Even more attention has gone to some of the protesters' actions after the demonstration in Burns. Some of the armed protesters, led by rancher and militiaman-activist Ammon Bundy, then headed for a remote federal outpost 30 miles away, which was located in and serves as the headquarters for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, with the intention to occupy the building until federal authorities stop persecuting local ranchers like the Hammonds with heavy-handed prosecutions and land management.

Left-wing Twitter, of course, didn't label this protest, say, #OccupyMalheur, but #OregonUnderAttack, which implies, incorrectly, that the protesters at Malheur were being violent against the residents of Oregon. There have been no reports of any casualties, clashes, hostages, or deaths. There appears to have been nobody at the outpost the protesters occupied. Bundy told the media he and the protesters plan on occupying the outpost "for years," and called on like-minded activists, or "patriots," to join them, but it's unclear that the protesters have the resources to accomplish a sustained occupation. The local sheriff said multiple agencies are "currently working on a solution."

You can expect endless "think pieces" and "hot takes" around the idea that the government should crack down on the armed protesters with extreme prejudice—either in the service of equality of police violence or out of a disdain for activists who exercise their Second Amendment rights, as well as calls to identify the protesters as "terrorists" for having the audacity to use guns in their demonstration. (Semi-related: as a student at Columbia, Eric Holder participated in an "armed" takeover of an ROTC office.)

Such arguments, as always, only serve to provide legitimacy for future acts of government violence. Self-proclaimed people of conscience interested in reducing and even eliminating excessive state violence should not make exceptions just because government violence might satiate their sectarian desires or partisan agendas, because those exceptions easily become the rule by being exploited by other sectarians and partisans.