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Militia movement sees signal of support in Trump’s pardon of Oregon ranchers who committed arson

Donald Trump pardoned Dwight Hammond and son Steven on Tuesday, two Oregon cattle ranchers who were convicted of arson on public lands after a long-running dispute over control of public properties adjoining their ranch. Their case sparked a 41-day occupation by a militia group of a national wildlife refuge in early 2016. John Yang learns more from P.J. Tobia.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has pardoned a championship boxer, a conservative former Arizona sheriff, a right-wing author and others. Last month, he said there will be more pardons coming.

    Today, we found out about two more, and it was a controversial decision once again.

    John Yang has that story.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the pardons went to two Oregon cattle ranchers, Dwight Hammond, and his son Steven.

    They had a long-running dispute with the Federal Bureau of Land Management over control of public properties adjoining their ranch and had been convicted of arson on public lands. The Obama Justice Department thought the original sentence was too light and appealed.

    Today, the White House said that was overzealous and unjust. Their case sparked a 41-day occupation of a national wildlife refuge in early 2016.

    The "NewsHour"'s P.J. Tobia is here to give us some context on all of this.

    So, P.J., tell us about who the Hammonds are and how they ended up going to prison.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    The Hammonds are a cattle ranching family in Southeast Oregon who have fought the federal government for decades over land use issue, especially using public federal lands that adjoin their own private properties.

    In 2012, they were convicted for multiple counts of arsons on federal property. The Hammonds say they were lighting the fires as a way of clearing brush to prevent bigger fires. The federal government say it was a way of intimidating the Bureau of Land Management and sort of imposing their own control on the land around which they sit.

    One of the blazes they lit turned into a 139-acre wildfire.

  • John Yang:

    And then how did this lead to the takeover of the wildlife refuge in 2016 and a really infamous standoff?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    So, a separate group of families from Nevada, the Bundy family, heard about the Hammonds' problems with the Bureau of Land Management, and immediately started their own campaign on social media.

    That led to a protest on the ground in Oregon. Then the Bundys called armed militia to the region. They all took over the Malheur Wildfire Refuge. It was a six-week standoff. And it ended with a man getting — with a car chase and a gun fight and a man being killed by Oregon state troopers.

  • John Yang:

    And the Hammonds, we should point out, said they had no connection to the militia groups.

    But how are those groups reacting to today's pardons?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    They're ecstatic, the men that spoke to today.

    And if you just go to the Facebook postings of these groups, there is high praise for President Trump, thank you, sir, prayers answered, and all that.

    This really comes at a time when the militia movement in America is looking for a boogeyman, right? They were energized by President Obama, who they hated and thought was going to steal their guns. They love President Trump. Roger Stone, a close adviser of the president, has spoken at fund-raisers for the Bundy families.

    And so they're looking for a bad guy. They take this as — however these pardons were meant to be received, they take this as a signal that President Trump is still fighting for them. And they want to show that they're fighting for President Trump.

    People who watch these groups, like myself, are looking to see what the next chapter of that fight might be.

  • John Yang:

    P.J. Tobia, thank you very much.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Thanks, John.

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