The US Department of Justice doubles down on it’s subtle but calculated defamation of the Hammond family by presenting as verifiable fact various one-sided dissemination of accusations related to uncharged crimes and details surrounding acquitted or dismissed charges.
On October 7th, 2015 the DOJ released a statement on behalf of the US Attorney for the District of Oregon outlining the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to vacate the previous applied 2012 sentence that imprisoned both Hammonds for lengths of time well below statutory minimums outlined in 18 USC 844(f)(1), amended as part of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) to include the minimum sentencing guideline of 5 years.
The release begins by stating that they were sentenced “[…] for arsons they committed on federal lands”. There exists no area of ambiguity as to whether or not these fires consumed areas of public land. However, to declare that arsons were “committed on federal lands” passively asserts that the Hammonds either set fires that originated on public lands or set fires on private land with the express intent that they would spread to public land. Doing so accepts the erroneous presupposition that a guilty verdict of arson constitutes a blanket acknowledgement of the entirety of the Government’s version of the events that transpired. The release clearly states that: “The trial involved allegations that the Hammonds […] ignited a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)”. The Hammonds would counter that the fires were ignited on privately held land for legitimate purposes, rendering the arson for federal land accidental, as opposed to intentional.
The DOJ goes on to outline various allegations raised during the course of the trial surrounding the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire where the testimony of a mentally ill, estranged relative who, 13 at the time of the fire, alleges that it was started on public land to vanquish evidence of a session poaching deer on Federal land. The DOJ’s questionable inclusion of this information in what should be a statement of fact derives its malicious purpose by a follow-up statement that reads: “The fire […] destroyed all evidence of the game violations”. To further spread it’s one-sided version of the story, the release propels as fact the accusation that the Hammonds notified BLM of the burn after starting the fire, despite testimony and evidence to the contrary. The release reads: “After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office […]”. Finally, the release asserts as fact that “Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire”. This allegation cannot be proven and was not corroborated by any witness other than the individual who made the accusation.
The accusation of utilizing fire to eliminate evidence of poaching, or asserting that a range land fire could destroy all evidence of game violations, first and foremost, exists in the realm of abject absurdity. It lends substantial credence to the idea that the DOJ’s release of information constitutes a one-sided attempt to sway public opinion to absorb as acceptable their heavy-handed misapplication of Federal statutes in the prosecution of two family members who had attempted (one one occasion) to manage their own land in accordance with principles and guidelines set forth in the Steens Act of 2000; a law passed that, in part, acknowledged the need for the use of fire regimen to control the invasive advance of the Western Juniper. Given that no carcasses were ever recovered, the destruction of game violations must imply that the carcasses were wholly consumed by the resulting fire. The area of Oregon in question is a high desert range land with relatively little fuel for a wildfire. How else would two ranchers successfully extinguish a 139 acre fire without the assistance of BLM fire suppression personnel? Total cremation of any animal carcass would require heat in excess of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit for a substantial duration of time. There simply does not exist enough fuel for a wildfire in this area to sustain temperatures for that duration for which the carcass of an animal the size of a deer could be wholly consumed. Despite the consideration of these technical details, the release asserts, as fact, that there were game violations to begin with; an accusation for which neither Hammond was ever convicted.
More recently, acting US Attorney Billy J. Williams, on the behalf of the DOJ, addresses a letter to the Citizens of Harney County, Oregon. He summarizes the issue as follows: “Five years ago, a federal grand jury charged Dwight and Steven Hammond with committing arson on public lands, and endangering firefighters”. This is, in it’s raw form, truth. However, the inclusion of “endangering firefighters”, an opinion of BLM not substantiated by conviction, follows the sentiment of passive defamation put forth in the October 2015 DOJ release. The truth is that the government unleashed a litany of charges in their original indictment that they knew couldn’t be solidly prosecuted in any court of law. That indictment included charges over a 20 or so year period for additional fires, conspiracy, and tampering with witnesses just to name a few. The tactic of excessive litigation is designed to intimidate the defendants into a plea deal or settlement favorable to the Federal government in stark contrast to an attempt to sufficiently punish an individual for the crime they are alleged to have committed.
With regard to the Goverment’s allegation that the Hammonds intentionally endangered fire suppression personnel, it would seem prudent then for an indictment for crimes under 18 USC 844(f)(2) which, under AEDPA, was amended to prescribe a 7 year minimum sentence for anyone who “engages in conduct prohibited by this subsection, and as a result of such conduct, directly or proximately causes personal injury or creates a substantial risk of injury to any person, including any public safety officer performing duties”. The Hammonds weren’t charged under this statute because the accusation cannot be substantiated. It is an opinion of the Government that cannot be proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, it is mentioned (in absence of the other charges for which the Hammonds were either exonerated or acquitted) in an ongoing campaign to shape public opinion on the matter.
The letter again raises the accusation that the Hammonds started the fire to eliminate evidence of poaching on Federal land. Expanding the dissemination of accusation as truth in this matter, the US Attorney asserts that another hunting party witnessed the Hammonds “illegally, slaughter a herd of deer on public land. At least 7 deer were shot […]”. The letter reiterates the testimony of Dusty Hammond, whose testimony was contested by other witnesses and deemed not credible enough by the original sentencing judge to factor in to the levied punishment. The letter, of course, doesn’t mention that the hunting guide for the other party had an ongoing tense and tumultuous relationship with the Hammond’s. The letter also conveniently omits the fact that a member of the Hammond’s hunting party flatly denied that Dusty Hammond was even a part of the hunt in question and affirmatively states that no poaching occurred and no fire was ignited on public land.
The letter does correctly state that the Hammonds were not charged with terrorism, distancing itself from the obviously egregious misapplication of statute, but fails to state the the minimum sentencing guideline was infact added as part of an anti-terrorism bill design to ensure that people who do engage in acts of terrorism receive certain minimum sentences. The Government’s insistence that the Hammonds serve the minimum sentence guideline shows the determination of the Government to excessively punish anyone who would oppose the agenda of the Federal agencies managing the land in the area of the Hammond Ranch. Essentially, “we aren’t accusing them of terrorism, but will insist that they be punished along those lines”. Keeping that line of persuasive rationale, the letter affirms that the original prosecutor called for the the minimum sentence because of the danger presented to hunters in 2001 (sufficiently contested) and BLM firefighters in 2006 (never charged under 18 USC 844(f)(2) or substantiated through conviction).
Finally, the letter states that “the Hammonds received a fair trial”. They did get their day in court. Missing from the letter is the fact that the prosecutor took 6 days to build a case for the Federal Government. The Hammonds attorney was given one day and denied a motion for extra time to introduce how elements of the Steens Act would counter the accusations of criminal activity made by BLM in the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire. One has to wonder why, if the litany of accusations of BLM were considered credible, suitable causation for the guilty verdicts passed down by the jury, would a Federal judge blatantly ignore what the US Attorney states is a cut-and-dry sentencing guideline. Either the judge is exceptionally negligent in his duty to apply minimum sentencing or he knows that the prescribed punishment that accompanies the crime for which the Hammonds were charge constitutes a misapplication of Federal law. Given the accusations (set forth as truth by the DOJ), Judge Hogan ruled:
“I am not going to apply the mandatory minimum and because, to me, to do so under the Eighth Amendment would result in a sentence which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here. And with regard to the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, this sort of conduct could not have been conduct intended under that statute. But this — it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.”
In spite of this ruling, the DOJ of continues to release statements that are filled with presentations of accusations construed to be 100% factual. It wasn’t enough to successfully charge and convict of arson two ranchers trying to cultivate and save their land. It wasn’t enough to secure a conviction, a $400,000 restitution settlement, a right of first refusal on the Hammond Ranch, and a denial of grazing permits. No. The DOJ pursues it’s relentless assault on these men back to Federal court to insist that they serve prison sentences established for those who engage in malicious acts of domestic terrorism.
The government doesn’t consider Dwight and Steven Hammond to be domestic terrorists, but they’ll relentlessly insist that they be punished as so in order to effect the desired outcome of their ultimate agenda… and they’ll leave no stone unturned in their quest to do just that. In this case, the stone of public opinion.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com