In a press release, Donald Trump announced full pardons for Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. The pair have long been the focus of right-wing extremists who rallied to their side, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy who organized their supporters to take over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in January 2016. The standoff lasted roughly five weeks before the last of the supporters were convinced to lay down their weapons and surrender to the FBI.
Dwight and Steven Hammond have a history of arson in Oregon, setting fires to nearby properties to allegedly help their own ranch, despite being repeatedly warned against such action by Bureau of Land Management firefighters and law enforcement. They are known to have started at least five major fires in Oregon: the Hardie-Hammond fire in 2001 (which was set to cover an illegal deer slaughter and endangered three hunters in the area); the Fir Creek fire in 2005; the Krumbo Butte fire in 2006; the Lower Bridge Creek fire in 2006, and the Grandad fire of 2006. The Hammond’s claimed they were “controlled fires,” but they most certainly were not and in the case of the 2006 Krumbo Butte fire, Steve Hammond ordered his nephew, Dusty, to start a fire that Dusty barely escaped. Making matters even worse, four Bureau of Land Management firefighters were trapped in the raging wildfire, also barely escaping with their lives. Their testimony and eventual pleas prove they knew everything they were doing was dangerous and illegal. From Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2012:
“Light the whole countryside on fire,” Dusty said his uncle told him. “I started lighting matches.”
Afterwards, he said, over lunch his grandfather and uncle instructed him to “keep my mouth shut; nobody needed to know anything about the fire.”
Despite the threats, Dusty ended up testifying against his uncle and his grandfather, who were also violently abusive to the teen. In 2004, Dusty used a paper clip to scratch his initials into his chest, upsetting his grandparents who had custody of Dusty. They called in Uncle Steve, who said raising kids was similar to raising cattle or dogs, to discipline the boy and Steve cruelly used sandpaper to sand off the initials on the boy's chest. From abuse investigation in 2004:
The report continues, “Dusty stated that Steve told him that he was not going to let Dusty deface the family by carving on himself. Dusty stated that Steve then took him and began to sand the initials off his chest… Steve sanded on each side of his chest for at least five minutes… Steve used a very coarse sandpaper to sand off the initials.”
The report goes on, “Dusty told me that the process was very painful, but that he did not cry because he knew that Steve would continue the process for a longer period of time.”
Steve vowed to “filet” the initials off if the sanding didn’t do the trick. That wasn’t the only documented abuse.
The report describes Steve as 35 years old, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. The report says that when Dusty was caught with alcohol, Steve had driven him at least 10 miles from the ranch “and made Dusty walk back.”
The report further states that when Dusty was caught with tobacco, “Steve made him eat two cans of Skoal Smokeless tobacco, then again drove him 10 miles from the ranch and made him walk back.”
In 2012, a jury found the Hammonds guilty of starting two fires. In 2015 they were finally sentenced to five years in federal prison and ordered to pay the $400,000 in restitution. Their conviction and sentencing became a flash point for anti-government extremists and the Bundy family in particular. Fresh of their consequence-free armed standoff in Nevada, brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy led the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, demanding the Hammonds be freed from prison. Militia types from all over the country brought their guns and supplies to hole up in the federally managed wildlife facility for roughly five weeks. The takeover came to a close after standoff leaders were ambushed by the FBI and Oregon State Police as they sought to meet with a nearby sheriff who was friendly to their cause. Standoff leader and noted fierce anti-government advocate LaVoy Finicum was killed by police fire after he jumped out of his vehicle and tried to pull his gun on law enforcement.
Like the pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, another militia favorite, Donald Trump is sending clear signals to armed right-wing extremists that he is with them and you better believe if Donald Trump faces federal charges himself, he will demand, and likely receive, their support. This pardon might be one of the most terrifying moves Trump has made to date. He is very, very clearly angling for loyalty from these heavily armed extremists. Look at the absolutely bonkers language issued by the White House announcing the pardons.
Today, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Grants of Clemency (Full Pardons) for Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond. The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land. The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.
At the Hammonds’ original sentencing, the judge noted that they are respected in the community and that imposing the mandatory minimum, 5-year prison sentence would “shock the conscience” and be “grossly disproportionate to the severity” of their conduct. As a result, the judge imposed significantly lesser sentences. The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison. This was unjust.
Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and has served approximately three years in prison. Steven Hammond is 49 and has served approximately four years in prison. They have also paid $400,000 to the United States to settle a related civil suit. 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.
There is only one reason for Donald Trump to pardon Dwight and Steve Hammond: he is doing so to gain the loyalty and support of hardened anti-government extremists and militias. This should frighten each and every one of us.