By Les Zaitz
January 2, 2016
Ryan Payne, an Army veteran from Montana, questioned why more Harney County veterans aren't defending the Constitution by standing up for local ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven. Payne, a militiaman, participated in the arm standoff last year in Nevada between a rancher and agents of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Hammonds are going to prison for burning bureau land south of Burns. Les Zaitz | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Update at 9:15 p.m.: Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: "After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation."
The Bundy family of Nevada joined with hard-core militiamen Saturday to take over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, vowing to occupy the remote federal outpost 50 miles southeast of Burns for years.
Rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his Burns home on Saturday. He and his son Steven are to report to prison on Monday on federal arson charges. An estimated 300 marchers went by the Hammond home, pausing to leave flowers and cheers. Les Zaitz | The Oregonian/OregonLive
The occupation came shortly after an estimated 300 marchers — militia and local citizens both — paraded through Burns to protest the prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who are to report to prison on Monday.
Among the occupiers is Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and two of his brothers. Militia members at the refuge claimed they had as many as 100 supporters with them. The refuge, federal property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was closed and unoccupied for the holiday weekend.
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Oregon ranchers' fight with feds sparks militias' interest
By Les Zaitz
December 31, 2015
The first fire came in 2001: a simple prescribed burn, intended to take out invasive juniper, by Steve and Dwight Hammond's account.
But federal prosecutors said the men's real motive for starting the blaze, which consumed 139 acres and forestalled grazing for two seasons, was to cover up evidence of an illegal slaughter of deer. The government presented evidence that Steven Hammond called an emergency dispatcher to ask if it was OK to burn -- roughly two hours after they already lit the fire. His attorney said in court that Hammond called the land bureau beforehand.
The government acknowledged that the next fire, in 2006, was intended as a defensive move. Steve Hammond set backfires to keep a lightning-caused fire from burning onto the Hammonds' ranch and hitting their winter feed.U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said at the men's original sentencing in 2012 that such a term would be unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment.
"It would be a sentence which would shock the conscience," Hogan said before sentencing Dwight to three months and Steve to one year.
The men served their time and went home to raise cattle. But their case, it turned out, was far from settled.
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