Jan 04

A Stupid Standoff but a Just Cause – My Thoughts on the Hammond Situation in Oregon:

Oath Keepers including founder Stewart Rhodes was the only organization to predict how Ammon Bundy’s vague calls for action on the part of the Hammond Family would actually play out.  They received a lot of ignorant attacks in response, and yet, they were absolutely right.

Ammon, apparently trying to recreate what cannot be recreated, is looking for another Bundy Ranch stand-off.  First, I would point out that such events can’t be artificially fabricated.  They have to happen in an organic way.  Whenever a group of people attempt to engineer a revolutionary moment, even if their underlying motivations are righteous, it usually ends up kicking them in the ass (Fort Sumter is a good example).  Ammon’s wingmen appear to be Blaine Cooper aka Stanley Blaine Hicks (a convicted felon), and Ryan Payne (who claimed falsely during the Bundy Ranch standoff that he was an Army Ranger and who worked diligently to cause divisions between involved parties on the ground).  This was the first sign that nothing good was going to come from the Hammond protest.

The plan is basically this – use the Hammond family as a vehicle (yes, this is what is being done) even though they did not want any kind of standoff to result and specifically refused aid.  Occupy federally owned buildings which have little to do with anything of importance and have no symbolic power as did Bundy Ranch.  Elicit federal response.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Bundy Ranch had many positive elements going for it, which is why it ended the way it did.  This standoff has none of the same elements.

– From Brandon Smith’s article: Oregon Standoff A Terrible Plan That We Might Be Stuck With

I wasn’t originally going to write anything about the armed occupation of a Federal outpost in Oregon by a group of opportunists creating an infantile and staged reaction to yet another egregious injustice of the U.S. criminal justice system. This is a very important distinction, because in today’s world everyone feels the need to take an immediate and unyielding stance on every national story without appreciating the nuances involved. One can support the Hammonds, while at the same time denouncing the tactics of Ammon Bundy.

Pretty much all of you have heard about the situation by now, but if you’re like me, you probably haven’t had the time to dig into the nitty gritty of the situation. For this, I turn to an excellent post at Patterico titled: What Are the Bundys Protesting? Here are a few excerpts:

I am not going to detail the Hammond case, but will give you some links — and some quotes from the court documents, which I pulled and do not find accessible to people without a PACER account.

Everything takes place in the context of the Fish and Wildlife Service buying up all the land around the Hammond ranch for a wildlife refuge. Apparently owning half the land in the West was not good enough for the feds; they had to have more and more and more and more. Then, the feds allegedly took many seemingly retaliatory actions against the Hammonds after they refused to sell. Then, we come to the arson fires, which as presented on the Internet is a hodgepodge of one-sided accounts.

The U.S. Attorney’s one-sided account is here, in its press release. There are a couple of one-sided accounts sympathetic to the Hammonds here and here. The Hammonds’ brief to the U.S. Supreme Court is here. I am not going to vouch for the accuracy of everything in those accounts, but these pieces will at least give you some idea of the other side of the story. Here is an excerpt from one of them:

The first, in 2001, was a planned burn on Hammonds’ own property to reduce juniper trees that have become invasive in that part of the country. That fire burned outside the Hammonds’ private property line and took in 138 acres of unfenced BLM land before the Hammonds got it put out. No BLM firefighters were needed to help extinguish the fire and no fences were damaged.

Dwight’s wife Susan shared some crucial details in an exclusive interview with TSLN.

“They called and got permission to light the fire,” she said, adding that was customary for ranchers conducting range management burns – a common practice in the area.

“We usually called the interagency fire outfit – a main dispatch – to be sure someone wasn’t in the way or that weather would be a problem.” Susan said her son Steven was told that the BLM was conducting a burn of their own somewhere in the region that very same day, but that they believed there would be no problem with the Hammonds going ahead with their planned fire. The court transcript includes the same information in a recording from that phone conversation.

In cross-examination of a prosecution witness, the court transcript also includes admission from Mr. Ward, a range conservationist that the 2001 fire improved the rangeland conditions on BLM.

. . . .

Susan said the second fire, in 2006, was a backfire started by Steven to protect their property from lightening [sic] fires.

“There was fire all around them that was going to burn our house and all of our trees and everything. The opportunity to set a back-fire was there and it was very successful. It saved a bunch of land from burning,” she remembers.

The BLM asserts that one acre of federal land was burned by the Hammonds’ backfire and Susan says determining which fire burned which land is “a joke” because fire burned from every direction.

Neighbor Ruthie Danielson also remembers that evening and agrees. “Lightening [sic] strikes were everywhere, fires were going off,” she said.

The father is 73 years old and had no prior record. He was convicted of one count of arson.

A couple of points. First: it’s not really the case that the jury accepted every aspect of the government’s case, just because there were a couple of arson convictions. The Hammonds admitted starting the two fires of which they were convicted, and the dispute was over whether they intended the fires to spread to public lands. The jury, as I understand it, found that they did — but that doesn’t mean the jury found that they were trying to act as terrorists, or burn down large swaths of the countryside, or do anything but protect their own property.

To me, rather than reading a bunch of partisan accounts from both sides, I thought I would look at the comments of the sentencing judge, which I pulled from PACER and you can access here. I also found the Ninth Circuit decision, which I have uploaded for your reading pleasure, and which you can access here.

I think that, to have a full understanding of everything that happened, you probably needed to sit through the trial. But here is my impression based on what I have read. The father and the son admitted setting the fires. In one case, there was a dispute about whether they were trying to cover up illegal hunting. The government’s position was based on a relative, Dusty Hammond, who apparently had had a falling out with the Hammonds (more about that below) and was 13 years old when the events happened. Apparently aspects of his testimony were at odds with some public hunting records. The judge seemed to think that witness was trying to tell the truth, but might have gotten some things wrong due to age and bias.

The judge also seemed to believe that the Hammonds were people of good character and not bad people, saying during the sentencing:

With regard to character letters and that sort of thing, they were tremendous. These are people who have been a salt in their community and liked, and I appreciate that.

The prosecutor also said that “both have done wonderful things for their community and those deeds are recognized in these letters.” He also alluded to “Dusty Hammond’s abuse at the hands of Steven Hammond.” The judge said about that: “There was, frankly, an incident, apparently it was removal of tattoos, that would have colored any young person’s thinking, and if that’s what happened, it can’t be defended, of course, but that’s not what’s before the court today.” Putting two and two together, the son apparently took some kind of violent action to remove Dusty Hammond’s tattoos, and Dusty Hammond did not like the son as a result.

As to the father Dwight Hammond’s single arson conviction, the judge said:

Well, the damage was juniper trees and sagebrush, and there might have been a hundred dollars, but it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t affect the guidelines, and I am not sure how much sagebrush a hundred dollars worth is. But I think this probably will be — I think mother nature’s probably taken care of any injury.

What follows is the most important part of the entire case, and demonstrates the injustice perpetrated by the Feds.

Regarding the five-year mandatory minimum for both defendants, the judge (Judge Michael Hogan) said:

I am not going to apply the mandatory minimum and because, to me, to do so under the Eighth Amendment would result in a sentence which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here.

And with regard to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, this sort of conduct could not have been conduct intended under that statute.

When you say, you know, what if you burn sagebrush in the suburbs of Los Angeles where there are houses up those ravines? Might apply. Out in the wilderness here, I don’t think that’s what the Congress intended. And in addition, it just would not be — would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality. I am not supposed to use the word “fairness” in criminal law. I know that I had a criminal law professor a long time ago yell at me for doing that. And I don’t do that. But this — it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.

The judge sentenced the Hammonds to much shorter sentences (three months for Dwight Hammond, the dad, and twelve months and a day for Steven Hammond), which they have served. The Ninth Circuit held that the minimum five-year sentence was not so disproportionate as to violate the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause. Now they have been resentenced to five years in prison, under an antiterrorism law passed by Congress.

Clearly, the Feds didn’t have to appeal a humane decision by Judge Hogan not to impose mandatory minimum sentences, but they decided to anyway.

Taking a step back, it’s clear to me that an injustice has been perpetrated against the Hammonds using these idiotic minimum sentencing requirements. As such, I certainly applaud all efforts to support them and try to right this wrong. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Ammon Bundy is focused on achieving this end. In fact, he appears to be more of an opportunist creating a staged and absurd standoff by kicking off an armed occupation of a federal outpost. As Brandon Smith accurately notes, this is no Bundy Ranch…

Ammon, apparently trying to recreate what cannot be recreated, is looking for another Bundy Ranch stand-off.  First, I would point out that such events can’t be artificially fabricated.  They have to happen in an organic way.  Whenever a group of people attempt to engineer a revolutionary moment, even if their underlying motivations are righteous, it usually ends up kicking them in the ass (Fort Sumter is a good example).  Ammon’s wingmen appear to be Blaine Cooper aka Stanley Blaine Hicks (a convicted felon), and Ryan Payne (who claimed falsely during the Bundy Ranch standoff that he was an Army Ranger and who worked diligently to cause divisions between involved parties on the ground).  This was the first sign that nothing good was going to come from the Hammond protest.

The plan is basically this – use the Hammond family as a vehicle (yes, this is what is being done) even though they did not want any kind of standoff to result and specifically refused aid.  Occupy federally owned buildings which have little to do with anything of importance and have no symbolic power as did Bundy Ranch.  Elicit federal response.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Bundy Ranch had many positive elements going for it, which is why it ended the way it did.  This standoff has none of the same elements.  

BINGO. This whole thing felt phony and staged from the very beginning. First of all, it wasn’t the Hammonds who decided to “stand their ground,” but it was Ammon Bundy. Second, they aren’t even taking a stand on their private property, instead choosing to seek out a federal outpost 30 miles away. I couldn’t come up with a more stupid plan if I tried.

Many of you may counter by saying, “sure, but the aggressiveness of the move by Ammon Bundy is at least drawing national attention to the issue.” Yes, it’s shining a spotlight on the situation, but not in a good way. Rather than turning attention to the injustice done to the Hammonds and countless others using minimum sentencing guidelines, it’s shifting all the attention on Ammon Bundy and his attempt to turn the situation into something it is not. In fact, the entire episode serves as perfect government propaganda to turn public opinion against guns and militias, while at the same time making general resistance to the feds looks childish, opportunistic and unhinged. This is a very counterproductive development when it comes to turning the hearts and minds of the public.

As Patterico notes:

I have read that the Hammonds do not want the help of the Bundys. My belief is that they are trying to get clemency from Obama and figure that a standoff with the federal government is counterproductive to that effort.

To conclude, the Hammonds deserve our support, Ammon Bundy does not.

For related articles, see:

Why the Standoff at the Bundy Ranch is a Very Big Deal

“A Good Time Was Had By All” – The Obamas Dance the Night Away as Ferguson, Missouri Burns

Rebellion in the USA – Protesters Take Over Albuquerque City Council and Attempt to Arrest Police Chief

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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2 Responses to “A Stupid Standoff but a Just Cause – My Thoughts on the Hammond Situation in Oregon”

  1. squodgy Says:

    In my humble opinion, this whole ploy plays right into the hands of the PTB, and most clear minded people want them to peacefully retreat.

    Nevertheless, whatever happens, it awakens a few more hitherto fence sitters.

  2. Infinite Says:

    To squodgy,

    I couldn’t agree more.

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