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.
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.