Tuesday, President Donald Trump granted full pardons to Dwight and Steven Hammond, the Harney County ranchers whose five-year prison sentences on arson charges led to the 2016 standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It was a fitting end.
The Hammonds, father Dwight and son, Steven, have been cattle ranchers in Harney County since the mid-1960s, when they bought an existing ranch that included federal grazing leases from the Bureau of Land Management.
The relationship between the ranchers and the government deteriorated over the years, and by 2012 the two men had been convicted of arson on federal land. The federal judge hearing the case, Judge Michael Hogan, sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months in prison and Steven Hammond to a year and a day in prison.
During that sentencing, Hogan made it clear he did not believe the Hammonds and their crimes were those meant by Congress when it passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996, under which the pair had been charged.
That law required at least five-year sentences for the crimes. Hogan said that would “shock the conscience.” The federal government appealed the sentences and won. In 2015 federal Judge Ann Aiken resentenced the two men, this time to five years with credit for time served. They returned to prison in January 2016.
Hogan was right when he questioned whether Congress had the likes of the Hammonds in mind when the anti-terrorism act was passed.
The two men may have been more willing than they should have been to take on the BLM, but that doesn’t make them terrorists. Nor does arson in the middle of the largely empty High Desert of Oregon make them terrorists. Criminals, perhaps, but surely not terrorists. Trump, at the urging of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, recognized the difference and did the right thing by pardoning the two men.