A disaster in Oregon
Two men are in prison for trying to protect their property, a man reported as a solid citizen and family man is dead, and a community is shaken and divided. This is the result of overzealous land managers, law enforcement and protesters.
Dwight and Steve Hammond, a father and son, were accused of burning 135 acres of BLM grazing land while setting backfires to protect their own private land. I wrote a column previously on this situation. They were charged under the Anti-terrorism and Death Penalty Act of 1996. Why, I have no idea.
In an apparent plea deal, they pleaded guilty to the charges and received penalties of one year and three months, respectively. They served those sentences. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) appealed the sentences after they were served as inadequate since the act they were charged under has a five-year minimum sentence. The Appeals Court judge agreed, and the Hammonds are now in prison for five years. Since they had already pleaded guilty, they didn’t have much choice.
This prompted a protest where the protesters took over and occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters for several weeks. The protest was peaceful although numerous protesters were armed. As some of them attempted to leave, one of the leaders, Lavoy Finicum, was shot and killed by Oregon State officer aided by the FBI. There are conflicting stories about the incident. The official FBI video taken from a helicopter creates more questions than it answers. I have viewed it several times.
Dashcam videos, which would have sound and different perspectives on the incident, have not been released. One thing is clear. The only weapons visible in the FBI video were those of law enforcement. I should note that the only weapons fired were by law enforcement.
One problem was that the purpose of the protest was never clearly stated. Why was the refuge occupied when the BLM was the aggressor in the Hammond case? That was never made clear and diminished the protest message. Here is the reason.
For years, the Malheur refuge has been subject to poor management decisions to the extent that wildlife now favors adjoining private land and public land under private stewardship. That means grazing, for you environmentalists. The government solution is not to correct the existing problem but to acquire more land area. The Hammond ranch is a prime acquisition target coveted by the refuge.
The second problem I had is this. In the Cliven Bundy incident in Clark County. protesters were defending a property against an action by an aggressor, the BLM. In the Oregon situation the protesters were on the offense, occupying a facility that was somewhat secondary to the Hammond sentencing.
There is plenty of blame to share in this incident. First, the Hammonds, for naively believing that apparent maliciously vindictive BLM land managers would stick to any agreement, and second, the Appeals Court judge who had obviously never heard of double jeopardy and is probably the root cause of a man’s death. In my opinion he is the one who should be in prison.
Third, the Harney County Sheriff for ceding his absolute law enforcement authority in his county to federal and state law enforcement. Had he not done so, the issue may not have become so inflamed. Finally, the protesters themselves, for choosing a poor venue and not clearly conveying their message. As Sun Tsu said in “The Art of War,” “If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it.”
I have tried to stay objective in this issue. That is hard for me to do as I have a tendency to side with the victims of a bully. As has been amply proven, there is no bigger bully than the BLM. In this case, though, I think the protest was ill-conceived and did not accomplish anything but a dead man.
This is the message I took from this incident. You can jeopardize our country’s security by receiving classified documents on a private server and, at least thus far, run for president with impunity. You can break federal law by entering the country illegally, and you won’t be charged. You can riot, loot and destroy in a city, and you will not be arrested but will receive sympathy from most of the media. But if you dare to buck the mighty BLM or dare bruise their egos, you may end up dead.
Tom Riggins’ column appears every other Friday. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.