President Donald J. Trump today announced he is granting executive clemency to Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son ranchers from Eastern Oregon.
"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," the White House said in a statement today. "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond."
The Hammonds' convictions and imprisonment for arson on public lands infuriated supporters, including Ammon Bundy, who has said he led the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in response to the five-year mandatory sentence which the Hammonds were given in 2015.
The arsons for which the two were convicted took place in 2001 and 2006 on federal Bureau of Land Management property where the Hammonds leased grazing rights. Although the pair have become heroes to people opposed to widespread federal ownership of western lands, some of the actions described in the federal Department of Justice description of their case is less than heroic.
Here's how a DOJ summary described the 2001 fire:
"Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property," the summary says. "Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out 'Strike Anywhere' matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to 'light up the whole country on fire.'"
Dwight Hammond is now 76 and was set for release Feb. 13, 2020. Stepehen Hammond is 49 and was set for release June 29, 2019. Both are at Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in California.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) encouraged Trump to grant the Hammonds clemency and state Sen. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), in whose district the Hammonds lived, celebrated the president's decision in a statement today.
"I also want to thank Congressman Greg Walden for his tireless efforts in support of these pardons," Bentz said. "Based upon my conversations with several of those involved I am relatively certain that without the Congressman's meaningful involvement this would not have happened."
Not everybody cheered the decision, however. Chris Saeger, director of the Western Values Project in Whitefish, Mt., said in a statement that Trump is sending a dangerous message.
"By pardoning the Hammonds, President Trump is telling anti-public land zealots there are no consequences for undermining every American's birthright to our shared public lands and national parks," Saeger said. "What's just as bad is that it shows Department of Interior employees who face serious threats from anti-government extremists like the Hammonds that the administration does not have their backs. This pardon is a direct threat to America's public lands and our shared national treasures."