WASHINGTON, January 9, 2016 — The Oregon siege continues. It supposedly pits the rights of American sportsmen and farmers against the rights of what those occupying a government building perceive as a land-grabbing federal government.
The actions of the militants who seized the building last weekend is already spurring yet another debate over gun control, along with leftist anger over white privilege and the government’s supposed kid-gloves approach to white conservatives, never mind Waco and Ruby Ridge. The question being ignored is, who owns America’s lands; Americans or the Government?
Following a peaceful demonstration by locals over prison sentences imposed on ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, armed anti-federalists seized control of the empty Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Oregon on Saturday.
The Hammonds had previously served jail sentences for arson after they set back fires that burned 139 acres of public land in 2001, according to court documents. A 2006 fire for which only Steven was convicted burned an additional acre of public land.
The Hammonds and their lawyers argue that these fires were not set to harm public property, but as a tried and true method used by wildfire fighters to stop out-of-control wild fires. Unfortunately for the Hammonds, their efforts burned vegetation on some federal land, with no apparent harm to the land or any person.
Arson convictions for both father and son were handed down in 2012. Much of the dispute in the years afterward—including, eventually, the armed occupation—revolves around their sentences.
U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan sentenced Dwight Hammond Jr. to three months of prison, and Steven Hammond to a year and one day. The federal government wanted the full five years, appealing the shorter sentences and eventually winning that appeal in 2014, leading to the re-imprisonment of the Hammonds.
“Even a fire in a remote area has the potential to spread to more populated areas, threaten local property and residents, or endanger the firefighters called to battle the blaze,” District Judge Stephen J. Murphy wrote in the appellate court’s opinion. “Given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.”
At 74 years of age, an additional four-year sentence could amount to a life-sentence for Steven Hammond—this for a victimless crime that might be better punished with a fine or public service, not finishing his life in prison.
This is government overreach.
The U.S. government, sometimes courtesy of the EPA itself, has caused far greater environmental destruction, with no federal officials even fired, let alone imprisoned. In 2015, EPA contractors spilled 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River in Colorado. The toxins laid waste to more than 100 miles of pristine river in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, raised lead levels to 12,000 times their normal level, and put 45,000 people at risk in Durango, Farmington, and other communities on the Animas and San Juan Rivers.
In terms of consequences to the EPA officials responsible for the mess, the Animas spill might as well have been swept under the rug. Farming and tourism were devastated, over 1,000 residential water wells were contaminated, and no federal prosecutor talked about the seriousness of the crime.
The ranchers holding the refuge say they want to harm no one, but they will defend themselves with force if authorities try to remove them. Spokespersons for the protestors say that they have no desire to kill or be killed.
Do we, as Americans, have a right to stand up to a federal government that treats us, at best, with little common sense, and at worst, with total disdain? The government inflicts on our society a death of a thousand cuts through federally mandated controls.
The use of federal land by ranchers, who pay fees to the government for that use, dates back to the 1862 Homestead Act, after the federal government stole the land from the Indians who were the rightful owners (read De-bullshitifying the libertopian Legend of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge).
Ranchers in Oregon, like the Bundy family in Nevada, want control over Federal land returned to local authorities in order to make the land more available for ranching, logging, mining and recreational use.
The group’s ultimate aim is supposedly to restore the U.S. Constitution and reclaim states’ rights, to return stewardship of the land to the states. It is not to ruin the land. To that end, they want to shrink the size of the federal government and reduce its hold on Americans’ rights.
The Second Amendment guarantees the rights of U.S. citizens “to keep and bear arms.” The First Amendment guarantees us the right to “peaceably assemble” and petition for “governmental redress of grievances.”
The situation in Oregon is unlikely to devolve into catastrophe; perhaps remembering Waco, the government is choosing caution. However, the standoff will feed the debate over gun control as it is proof that gun-toting Americans can use firearms to demand their rights.
That is, in essence, the purpose of the Second Amendment—to give Americans the ability to protect themselves from a tyrannical government. The transfer of congressional power to the executive branch has undermined the balance that ensures government does not exceed its boundaries.
When a government ignores the interests of its citizens, those citizens, like the ones in Oregon, may very well stand up to the government.
Where do you stand, becomes the question for voters. With a government whose executive branch now creates laws that expand federal overreach and trample state rights? Or with the government as envisioned by our Constitutional framers?
Communities Digital News writer Matthew Geiger’s Oregon militants and gun control contributed to this story.