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Terrorists

Terrorists

The Hammond family is pictured above.  The Federal government under the Obama administration has difficulty determining who is an Islamic terrorist, but they have had absolutely no problem prosecuting members of the Hammond family as terrorists, as part of a land grab effort by the Federal government.  Here are the details, via David French of National Review Online:

Watching the news yesterday, a person could be forgiven for thinking that a small group of Americans had literally lost their minds. Militias are marching through Oregon on behalf of convicted arsonists? A small band of armed men has taken over a federal building? The story practically writes itself. Or does it? Deranged militiamen spoiling for a fight against the federal government make for good copy, but what if they’re right? What if the government viciously and unjustly prosecuted a rancher family so as to drive them from their land? Then protest, including civil disobedience, would be not just understandable but moral, and maybe even necessary.

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The story as told by the protesters begins not with the federal criminal case against Steven and Dwight Hammond but many years earlier, with the creation and expansion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a tract of federal land set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt as “a preserve and breeding-ground for native birds.” The federal government has since expanded the preserve in part by buying adjacent private land. Protesters allege that when private landowners refused to sell, the federal government got aggressive, diverting water during the 1980s into the “rising Malheur lakes.” Eventually, the lakes flooded “homes, corrals, barns, and graze-land.” Ranchers who were “broke and destroyed” then “begged” the government to buy their “useless ranches.”

By the 1990s, the Hammonds were among the few private landowners who remained adjacent to the Refuge. The protesters allege that the government then began a campaign of harassment designed to force the family to sell its land, a beginning with barricaded roads and arbitrarily revoked grazing permits and culminating in an absurd anti-terrorism prosecution based largely on two “arsons” that began on private land but spread to the Refuge.

While “arsons” might sound suspicious to urban ears, anyone familiar with land management in the West (and to a lesser degree, in the rural South and Midwest) knows that land must sometime be burned to stop the spread of invasive species and prevent or fight destructive wildfires. Indeed, the federal government frequently starts its own fires, and protesters allege (with video evidence) that these “burns” often spread to private land, killing and injuring cattle and damaging private property. Needless to say, no federal officers are ever prosecuted. The prosecution of the Hammonds revolved mainly around two burns, one in 2001 and another in 2006. The government alleged that the first was ignited to cover up evidence of poaching and placed a teenager in danger. The Hammonds claimed that they started it to clear an invasive species, as is their legal right. Whatever its intent, the fire spread from the Hammonds’ property and ultimately ignited 139 acres of public land. But the trial judge found that the teenager’s testimony was tainted by age and bias and that the fire had merely damaged “juniper trees and sagebrush” — damage that “might” total $100 in value. The other burn was trifling. Here’s how the Ninth Circuit described it: In August 2006, a lightning storm kindled several fires near where the Hammonds grew their winter feed. Steven responded by attempting back burns near the boundary of his land. Although a burn ban was in effect, Steven did not seek a waiver. His fires burned about an acre of public land. In 2010 — almost nine years after the 2001 burn — the government filed a 19-count indictment against the Hammonds that included charges under the Federal Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which mandates a five-year prison term for anyone who “maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States.”

At trial, the jury found the Hammonds guilty of maliciously setting fire to public property worth less than $1,000, acquitted them of other charges, and deadlocked on the government’s conspiracy claims. While the jury continued to deliberate, the Hammonds and the prosecution reached a plea agreement in which the Hammonds agreed to waive their appeal rights and accept the jury’s verdict. It was their understanding that the plea agreement would end the case. At sentencing, the trial court refused to apply the mandatory-minimum sentence, holding that five years in prison would be “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses” and that the Hammonds’ fires “could not have been conduct intended [to be covered] under” the Anti-terrorism act: When you say, you know, what if you burn sagebrush in the suburbs of Los Angeles where there are houses up those ravines? Might apply. Out in the wilderness here, I don’t think that’s what the Congress intended. And in addition, it just would not be — would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality. . . . It would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me. Thus, he found that the mandatory-minimum sentence would — under the facts of this case — violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” He sentenced Steven Hammond to two concurrent prison terms of twelve months and one day and Dwight Hammond to one prison term of three months. The Hammonds served their sentences without incident or controversy.

The federal government, however, was not content to let the matter rest. Despite the absence of any meaningful damage to federal land, the U.S. Attorney appealed the trial judge’s sentencing decision, demanding that the Hammonds return to prison to serve a full five-year sentence. The case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court ruled against the Hammonds, rejecting their argument that the prosecutor violated the plea agreement by filing an appeal and dismissing the trial court’s Eighth Amendment concerns. The Hammonds were ordered back to prison. At the same time, they were struggling to pay a $400,000 civil settlement with the federal government, the terms of which gave the government right of first refusal to purchase their property if they couldn’t scrape together the money.

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9

Sagebrush Rebellion II

federally-owned-land

A perennial issue in the West is the amount of land owned by the federal government and the Clive Bundy confrontation, go here to read all about it, has brought it to the fore:

 

There’s a modern tea party political element to it, but it goes much farther back to when many western territories achieved statehood in the 19th century, working out deals with Washington (as Mormon Utah did over what adherents at the time called “plural marriages”).

The map accompanying this article shows the difference between the West and the rest of the country. Here’s a list showing percentages of federal land by state, according to the Congressional Research Service. It includes the US Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, National Parks, and military bases: Nevada 81, Alaska 62, Utah 67, Oregon 53, Idaho 62, Arizona 42, California 48, Wyoming 48, New Mexico 35, Colorado 36.

State lawmakers say they’re better prepared to manage such lands, both for the environment and for regional economies.

“There is a distinct difference in the way federal agencies are managing the federal lands today,” Sen. Fielder said. “They used to do a good job, but they are hamstrung now with conflicting policies, politicized science, and an extreme financial crisis at the national level. It makes it impossible for these federal agencies to manage the lands responsibly anymore.”

Utah has led a legislative charge to demand relinquishment of title to certain lands that exclude national parks and wilderness study areas, reports the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

The “Transfer of Public Lands Act,” signed into law by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in 2012, set the stage for a formal showdown with the government by demanding action under threat of lawsuit, the newspaper reports. Other states are exploring similar options.

Often, the political fight centers on some hapless species of plant or animal threatened with extinction and protected under federal law – like the northern spotted owl in Oregon or the desert tortoise in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Sometimes federal agencies are caught in the middle, trying to apply the “multiple use” doctrine to lands in dispute. Continue Reading